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Arts Council decision shows it lacks the write stuff

The news has just come through that, after more than 40 years of continued support, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has suddenly stopped its core funding of Blackstaff Press.

During its long relationship with Blackstaff, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland saw its role as benignly supporting a seedbed for Northern writing, resulting in a glittering list including books by Ciaran Carson, Paul Durcan, John Hewitt, Michael and Edna Longley, Sam Hanna Bell, as well as David McKittrick and Jonathan Bardon. Last year the company received £82,000. This year, nothing.

Blackstaff is instead invited to seek support on a title by title basis - a more 'efficient' method according to the council. This is the same approach as adopted by the Arts Council in Dublin last year to the O'Brien Press. Reminiscent of the much-deplored Censorship Board there, the sub-committee involved, sitting in judgment on authors' books, briskly bases its decision on what might have been years of a writer's work on no more than a 10-page extract and a plot summary.

At least the invitation to apply for support for individual titles tacitly concedes the principle and desirability of support. But this is no way to treat experienced publishers who have spent their careers nurturing authors, building lists and honing editorial and other skills.

Tony Farmar

Ex-President Irish Book Publishers' Association


Belfast Telegraph


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