Instrument funding for marching bands helps a vital part of our cultural heritage

Nelson McCausland
Nelson McCausland

This week the Assembly unanimously agreed a DUP Motion calling on the Culture Minister to restore funding to the musical instruments for bands programme.

Nearly 30,000 people across Northern Ireland are involved with marching bands, engaging many young people in musical activity that they might otherwise never be involved with.

The level of funding going to musical instruments is relatively modest but it targets many people in both inner-city areas of high social deprivation and isolated rural communities.

Whilst many of the minister’s pet projects have escaped unscathed from any funding cuts, this is the only example where not just one organisation, but an entire sector has had all its funding withdrawn.

Our parading culture has been described as “Northern Ireland’s best kept secret”.

These bands contribute to our society not just musically, but providing structure, discipline and a social outlet for a huge number of young people.

The parading sector also contributes almost £55 million per year to the local economy.

The Minister’s ambivalence to the marching band scene is disappointing but not surprising.

Instead of marginalising this sector it should be promoted as a vital part of our cultural heritage and tourism offering.

The scale and quality of music performed at band parades is unique to Northern Ireland and should be celebrated and promoted.

This organic and grass-roots community artistic expression is growing, with parades increasing in both attendance and participation.

I would hope that following the Assembly debate this week the minister might set aside her obvious ambivalence to the marching band scene and ensure it is treated with the fairness and equality she is so keen to talk about.

• Nelson McCausland is a DUP MLA for North Belfast who has served as ministers for Culture and for Social Security