The chair of the DCAL committee has demanded a complete review of how publicly funded grants are awarded to Feile an Phobail.
The DUP’s Nelson McCausland claims that the West Belfast Festival is being funded by cuts to the Arts Council and that other organisations aren’t being given an opportunity to apply. Mr McCausland writes about the subject in his column in today’s Belfast Telegraph.
Next Thursday the minister, Sinn Fein’s Caral Ni Chuilin, will appear before the committee to answer questions about arts funding.
Mr McCausland asks: “So why did she cut the budget to the Arts Council?”
He continues: “She cut it (the Arts Council Budget) at the start of the year and now she has cut it again half-way through the year by a further £870,000.”
He argues: “The Sinn Fein minister tries to argue that these are ‘Tory cuts’ but the truth is that they are really Sinn Fein cuts. There is an old saying about ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ and that is what she is doing.
“DCAL allocates its arts funding to the Arts Council and then they distribute it through their funding streams. That leaves almost nothing for the minister to allocate directly but the Sinn Fein minister wanted to have a pot of money, a cultural war chest, which she could hand out to pet projects.”
He focuses attention on a Cultural Fund of £500,000 set up in 2013 to showcase Belfast to participants in the World Police and Fire Games. Feile got more than half, £254,000, according to documents obtained by Mr McCausland.
The Cultural fund continued the next year and the entire £350,000 was allocated to Feile. For the next year they have been allocated £220,000 despite arts cuts.
Any suggestion of special treatment has been denied by Danny Morrison, a former director of Feile and former Sinn Fein director of publicity.
“Nelson should remember that one of his own books, Scotchtown, was subsidised by the Ulster-Scots Agency,” Mr Morrison said.
He added: “I stepped down from a senior role in Feile two years ago. Certainly nothing like that happened in my time and I don’t believe it is happening now.”
Mr McCausland is a long term critic of the festival which he describes as a “wholly owned subsidiary of Sinn Fein” because its four directors are party members, including the President Gerry Adams.
Mr Morrison said: “It should be no surprise that Gerry Adams is a director, he founded it.”
He also pointed out that many unionists and loyalists, including Mr McCausland himself, have appeared at Feile.
Mr McCausland stated: “They have also got grants through the Tourist Board for particular events. These are big events with big door sales and they shouldn’t require subsidy at the expense of other cultural activity. There needs to be a complete review of their funding.”
A DCAL spokesman said: “The cultural programme was developed and progressed in an open and transparent way. The minister will reiterate this when she speaks in front of the Assembly’s Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee next week.”
He added: “While the minister was able to reduce the cut in DCAL’s budget from 10% to 8.25%, it was still not enough to meet all the needs and there has not been access to in-year allocations, as there has been in previous years.”