Belfast Telegraph

Tory austerity the real reason behind cuts to the Arts Council: Caral Ni Chuilin

Arts hub: The Mac in Belfast
Arts hub: The Mac in Belfast

By Caral Ni Chuilin

I was struck by Nelson McCausland's comments (DebateNI, October 29) when he said: "The Arts Council aren't to blame for these savage cuts. They are merely passing on some of the cuts imposed on them by the minister (of Culture, Arts and Leisure)."

He could have added, applying this logic, that neither is the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to blame for these savage cuts. They are merely passing on the cuts imposed on them by the Tory Government in Westminster.

Following through on his logic would mean placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of the British Government where it belongs. But Nelson prefers, characteristically, to ignore logic and blame Sinn Fein.

He was able to access information on Feile an Phobail, because their finances are open and transparent and subject to scrutiny. Which is more than can be said for some of the funding decisions taken by him when he was a minister.

As Social Development Minister, Nelson was subject to an inquiry over the Red Sky fiasco, and has still failed to account for his funding of Orangefest.

The in-year budget cuts and the cultural programme have prompted comment and speculation recently. So let me address both of them in a very direct manner.

I am in the invidious position of trying to fund more groups with a reduced budget because of cuts imposed on my department as a direct result of the cuts to the block grant by the British Government, which has effectively resulted in a 10% (almost £10m) reduction in my budget.

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I do not want to reduce spending on any programmes or projects. I have fought hard to maximise funding for the arts and my party has been to the forefront in challenging the Tory ideological assault on public spending.

I am trying to use the available funds to include marginalised and vulnerable communities who have never benefited from the arts.

There are specific programmes to help the homeless and children in care homes, among others.

The cultural programme was established in 2013 to maximise the benefits of the World Police and Fire Games. In that year, £479,000 was allocated to Feile an Phobail, the McCracken Cultural Society and Belfast Film Festival. Standard processes to appraise, monitor and evaluate all expenditure were put in place.

Feile an Phobail is a well-established, inclusive and internationally recognised body that delivers arts and culture to more than 100,000 people every year.

Money allocated to Feile was also passed on directly to other community festivals and groups - including Eastside Arts, Duncairn Arts, ArtsEkta and the Spectrum Centre on the Shankill Road.

The money was secured in monitoring rounds with the full knowledge and support of other parties in the Executive.

I have allocated tens of millions of pounds across the culture and arts sector. This includes more than £72m to the Arts Council and almost £11m to build and establish The Mac in Belfast.

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure spent £12.3m on the City of Culture cultural programme and, additionally, has allocated more than £6m for legacy projects to ensure that the benefits extend beyond Derry to the wider north west.

I would like to do more; I want to work with groups and individuals across the whole culture, arts and leisure sector to develop an alternative to austerity.

My top priority as minister is to promote equality and tackle poverty and social exclusion through the delivery of arts, culture and leisure.

I will continue to do that - whatever resources I have within my department.

  • Caral Ni Chuilin MLA is Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure

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