A DUP minister has reinstated funding for marching bands across Northern Ireland which was axed to loud protests only last year by his Sinn Fein predecessor.
Minister for Communities Paul Givan MLA told the News Letter on Friday that the Musical Instruments for Bands funding is to be reinstated – £200,000 of which will be available for bands across Northern Ireland in 2016/17.
The programme, which is distributed through the Arts Council, provides grants of between £500 and £5,000 for the purchase of instruments to bands based in Northern Ireland which are formally constituted and which have not received a grant from the fund in the previous five years. It is generally accessed by the marching bands community.
In April last year Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, who at that time had responsibility for the matter, said that due to a budget shortfall she was unable to endorse the funding at that present time.
Adding that she understood “this uncertainty will not be welcome among the bands sector”, she said more than £500,000 had been awarded under this scheme in the previous three years.
However, DUP MLA Nelson McCausland, then chair of the Assembly’s Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, responded at the time that her decision was “both perverse and incomprehensible”.
He added: “Participation in the arts is one of the departmental priorities and this sector is right up there at the top as the largest community arts sector in Northern Ireland.”
Yesterday, however, Mr Givan said he was pleased to reinstate the funding.
“It was very disappointing for many bands when this programme was suspended last year by the DCAL Minister Caral Ni Chuilin,” he said.
“Whilst the total amount of money available is relatively modest, it is still a very important funding source for bands.
“The marching bands sector is the largest community arts sector in Northern Ireland with nearly 30,000 people regularly participating in over 600 bands.
“A huge effort is put in by volunteers who contribute not just musically and culturally but economically.
“The £200,000 funding provided within the scheme is part of over £1m spent each year on musical instruments alone.
“Bands also provide structure, discipline and a social outlet for thousands of young people across the Province and I will continue to work to ensure that adequate resources are available for the sector.”