Belfast Telegraph

Feile an Phobail funding decision deferred as process is queried

Sian O'Neill
Sian O'Neill
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Concerns have been raised about a plan to award additional council funding to festivals - the vast bulk of which will go to Feile an Phobail.

Belfast City Council recommended members approve an extra £200,000 for the West Belfast Festival at a meeting earlier this month.

But Alliance councillor Sian O'Neill has questioned the move, saying her concerns are not over where the money is going, but rather the process of awarding the cash.

She said: "In the interim none of us feel comfortable saying 'just spend that money' without any justification.

"I wanted to know where did those figures come from, how much had we given previously, etc to see if there was a pattern."

The council is working to develop a new cultural strategy from April 2020, and is putting an interim plan in place for 2019/2010.

A report on the progress of the city cultural programme was brought to the council's growth and regeneration committee on January 9.

The funding allocation recommendations were made by Festival and Events International (FEI), which was commissioned by the council to examine its festival and events strategy.

It identified three festivals - the Maritime Festival, Belfast International Arts Festival and the Feile - and recommended they be awarded funding due to their potential to develop into "key Belfast signature events".

At the December meeting of the strategic policy and resources committee members agreed to allocate an additional budget of £320,000 to help develop the events during 2019/20.

The funding was allocated from the council's specified reserve in order to help in the development of a long-term cultural programme.

An extra £25,000 will be awarded to the Belfast International Arts Festival and an extra £200,000 to Feile, with the remaining £95,000 allocated to support the growth of festivals around the city.

Feile will receive another £39,000 from the annual budget, with the Belfast International Arts Festival receiving £39,000. The £240,000 cost of the Maritime Festival will be entirely funded by the annual budget.

At this month's meeting of the city growth and regeneration committee councillors decided to defer approving the funding following a motion from councillor O'Neill, with only Sinn Fein voting in favour of going ahead with the plan.

Councillors will receive more information at party briefings in the coming weeks, with the funding being raised again at next month's meeting of the committee.

Ms O'Neill said she had concerns around the awarding of the funding and the transparency of the application process.

She added there were concerns smaller events were losing out when applying for funding.

"We are trying to grow grassroots festivals and events within our city and I feel if you have a monopoly at the top, that money isn't going to trickle down and get our other arts organisations to a point where their festivals can grow," she said.

"At the minute there's a top down approach and there's very much a monopoly on certain events. I believe that there needs to be a fair, open and transparent way of funding our arts, that's the only way we are going to grow our arts"

In its accounts, Feile stated that it received £341,723 from Belfast City Council in 2017/18.

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