Belfast Telegraph

DUP and Sinn Fein in fresh clash over cuts to arts budget

By Tim Smith

A fresh row has erupted over Northern Ireland's arts budget after Sinn Fein criticism of cuts was branded "worthy of a theatrical award" by the DUP.

South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford hit out after remarks by the former Sinn Fein Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir, who has slammed cuts to funding for arts groups.

Mr O Muilleoir said yesterday that he had written to the permanent secretary at the Department for Communities Leo O'Reilly on behalf of arts groups in his constituency to seek a meeting opposing any cuts.

But Mr Stalford hit back, saying that Sinn Fein was in charge of arts when Caral Ni Chuilin was Culture Minister, but had failed to address funding problems in the sector, instead prioritisng "pet cultural projects".

Mr Stalford added: "Sinn Fein cannot erase Caral Ni Chuilin's record as Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister.

"During that tenure, cuts totalling nearly £8.5m were implemented. On average, nearly a £1.7m cut each year.

"When a DUP minister came into post in 2016-17, funding for the arts increased by £317,000.

"Sinn Fein have a record of failure for the arts yet are now sprinting to every protest about arts funding. It's worthy of a theatrical award."

Mr Stalford accused Mr O Muilleoir of prioritising a narrow Sinn Fein cultural agenda during his time in office, instead of developing solutions for the wider arts sector.

He added: "If Sinn Fein was really serious about helping the arts sector, they would drop their red lines and get back to work in an Executive."

But his comments drew criticism from Sinn Fein MLA Megan Fearon.

She said: "Christopher Stalford would rather talk about anything other than the fact that his party has presided over a Tory budget that is wedded to austerity and the continued denial of rights that are available to citizens across this island.

"The DUP collapsed the talks process rather than deliver for local people with locally accountable institutions."

Ms Fearon said the past seven years had seen "cut after cut to the block grant by a Tory administration who the DUP rushed to support and to keep in power".

She added: "Sinn Fein's record in government is clear.

"It is one of prioritising front line public services, facing down Tory austerity and protecting the most vulnerable from welfare cuts."

Belfast Telegraph

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