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Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy accused of ‘sitting on’ funds as arts sector crumbles

Conor Murphy has indicated he will bring proposals to the Executive on Thursday for unspent Covid-19 funding.

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Finance Minister Conor Murphy (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye)

Finance Minister Conor Murphy (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye)

Finance Minister Conor Murphy (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye)

The Stormont finance minister has been accused of “sitting on” £33 million of Covid relief funding for the arts as the sector is “crumbling”.

Co Antrim born actor Liam Neeson earlier described the funding as a “lifeline” for theatres and venues in an appeal for the Executive to step in.

Northern Ireland received the £33 million in June as part of a UK government package for theatres, arts and music venues and museums.

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A socially distanced audience at the Playhouse Theatre in Londonderry this week. (PlayhouseTheatre/PA)

A socially distanced audience at the Playhouse Theatre in Londonderry this week. (PlayhouseTheatre/PA)

A socially distanced audience at the Playhouse Theatre in Londonderry this week. (PlayhouseTheatre/PA)

Mr Neeson said funding support was needed to help secure the livelihoods of almost 8,000 people working in the arts and creative industries.

Speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday, Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt accused Conor Murphy of “sitting on” the funding for two-and-a-half months as the sector is “crumbling”.

Mr Murphy responded, saying money that comes via the Barnett Formula is “not ringfenced for any particular area”, adding that £4 million was allocated to the arts.

“I see it very much as economic support as well because arts venues are very much part of our tourism product and economic product so I am very sympathetic to the arguments that were made and I intend to bring a proposition to the Executive on Thursday in relation to that,” he said.

Pressed further, Mr Murphy added: “I have said that I want to allocate the remaining money because we have a limited remaining pot of Covid money, the Treasury have made it very clear that’s it as far as this financial year is concerned.

“I wanted to make sure it was allocated against economic recovery proposals that the Executive had endorsed, we hadn’t got those over the course of the summer, we now have those and I am in a position to an allocation this week and I will bringing proposals to the Executive on Thursday.”

TUV MLA Jim Allister queried how much of the £2.2 billion funding from the Treasury for the Covid-19 response remains unspent, asking was £800 million the total remaining money.

Mr Murphy responded saying the remaining funding was “in the region” of what Mr Allister suggested, adding that £600 million is with the department of health.

“It’s my intention to bring a paper to the Executive on Thursday which will allocate the bulk of the remaining money,” he told the Assembly.

He said some of the funding will be held to support sectors that have not yet received support.

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Copies of the published report from Sir Patrick Coghlin’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) public inquiry outside Stormont in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Copies of the published report from Sir Patrick Coghlin’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) public inquiry outside Stormont in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

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Copies of the published report from Sir Patrick Coghlin’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) public inquiry outside Stormont in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Finance Minister was also questioned about the implementation of recommendations made following the inquiry into the RHI botched green energy scheme.

Mr Murphy said the executive has accepted in principle the recommendations of the report and has established a sub-committee which met in July and is next due to meet in October. He said it will bring a full report before the Christmas recess.

He added: “We want to ensure confidence is restored in the working of this institution.”

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