Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein and the DUP clash over arts funding row

By David Young

South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford has accused Sinn Fein of hypocrisy over its criticism of funding in the arts sector.

The DUP representative claimed that the republican party had overseen cuts of millions when it held the Stormont culture portfolio.

He was speaking after Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir waded into the funding row that erupted after Arts Council chairman John Edmund criticised the sector's reliance on Government handouts.

The former Finance Minister said he wanted to meet Mr Edmund - who was appointed to his post by the DUP - as he found his remarks about the arts' dependency on public money "disturbing".

But the DUP MLA said: "There are real pressures on public finances and on all areas of government expenditure.

"Rather than issuing 'bright-side of the road' Press statements, Sinn Fein should have an honest conversation about the funding of our arts sector."

Mr Edmund has been at the centre of controversy since he made a speech in which he said that the sector should be run more like a business.

Eight of the 11 members of the Arts Council board issued a statement distancing themselves from his remarks. Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the board passed two votes of no confidence in Mr Edmund last year, and staged walkouts from board meetings.

Arts practitioners who fear forecasted cuts of 8% to their already stretched budgets also joined the criticism.

As the row continued, Mr Stalford claimed that when Sinn Fein's Caral Ni Chuilin was Culture Minister, she oversaw cuts totalling almost £8.5m.

"During the course of her five-year tenure, that represents on average nearly £1.7m of cuts each year," he said.

"When a DUP minister came into post in 2016-2017, funding for the Arts increased by £317,000."

He said Mr O'Muilleoir had the opportunity as Finance Minister to direct extra funds to the arts, but "walked away".

"Sinn Fein's attitude to the arts was abysmal. Their focus was on pet cultural projects, as opposed to investing in an already thriving sector," he said.

He challenged the party to "get around the Executive table to discuss these matters with other parties and attempt to find a solution".

"It's time for Sinn Fein to get real and face up to the facts of what is happening in departments and the pressures that exist due to their failure to get back into the Executive," he said.

"It offers nothing to the arts sector for Mairtin O'Muilleoir to put on his own theatrical performances of manufactured outrage about funding."

Belfast Telegraph

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