Ni Chuilin to be quizzed on festival funding ‘scandal’

Caral Ni Chuilin has been summoned  to appear before the culture arts and leisure committee at Stormont
Caral Ni Chuilin has been summoned to appear before the culture arts and leisure committee at Stormont

The Culture Minister is to be summoned before a Stormont scrutiny committee to explain an alleged disparity in festival funding.

Caral Ni Chuilin is to be quizzed about how her department has distributed a cultural fund which was set up two years ago.

Unionists have demanded answers after it emerged the bulk of the money was spent on projects in north and west Belfast.

Nelson McCausland, chairman of the culture arts and leisure (CAL) committee, said: “This was a political decision by a Sinn Fein minister to direct money to certain organisations, the main one of which has four directors all of whom are senior members of Sinn Fein.

“Now that is a scandal.”

In 2013/14, the west Belfast festival Feile an Phobail, the Belfast Film Festival and McCracken Cultural Society benefited from the cultural fund, MLAs were told during a briefing from DCAL officials at Stormont.

The following year in 2014/15, money was allocated to the West Belfast Festival, the Arts Spectrum Centre, the Belfast Film Festival and Duncairn Arts, the committee heard.

It was not made clear if any other groups had applied and eligibility criteria was not outlined.

Feile an Phobail is among the biggest and most successful festivals run in Northern Ireland, regularly attracting big names.

It hit the headlines earlier this year when controversial comedian Frankie Boyle was booked to perform, sparking protests by some parents of children with Down’s syndrome.

Mr McCausland said: “A quarter of a million goes to the west Belfast festival; the group in north Belfast that gets it is the McCracken Cultural Society – an Irish language centre; and the third group is the Belfast Film Festival which used to be the West Belfast Film Festival.

“Effectively all of the money that came out of this cultural fund was directed to north Belfast and west Belfast, or the bulk of it was.

“That’s interesting because the community in north Belfast that I come from didn’t see a penny of it.”

There were calls for greater transparency and MLAs have demanded to see business cases from the successful applicants.

Mr McCausland added:” The question has been asked by the arts community why all these cuts, where is all this money going?

“The answer is that everybody else is being stripped and robbed in order to pour money into a programme which is directed at one particular organisation and a few others around it.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MLA Rosie McCorley said it was premature to describe the situation as unfair.

“At this point nobody is in a position to say something isn’t fair,” she said.