Omagh:  Cultural Centre

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Arts and Leisure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 24th June 2002.

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Photo of Mr Oliver Gibson Mr Oliver Gibson DUP 3:00 pm, 24th June 2002

4. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what plans he has to encourage Omagh to become an arts and culture centre for the west.

(AQO 1628/01)

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

The development of Omagh as an arts and cultural centre for the west is primarily a matter for Omagh District Council in conjunction, as appropriate, with neighbouring district councils. However, my Department is working with district councils through the cultural forum to develop local cultural strategies. Furthermore, the Ulster American Folk Park is a fundamental element of the cultural infrastructure in the west, and the development of the arts centre, for which £4 million has been allocated by the Arts Council, will create a new strategic focal point for the region.

Photo of Mr Oliver Gibson Mr Oliver Gibson DUP

I thank the Minister for the details in his reply. As the proposed new arts centre reaches the stage where it can be described as a contractual project, £1 million is still outstanding. Can the Minister ensure that that money is found? It will make the project successful, viable and sustainable and ensure that Omagh is a proper arts and cultural centre for the west of the Province.

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure supports the arts centre fully. The Arts Council set aside £4 million in 1999. That represented 50% of the dedicated arts content of the arts centre. I understand that the council needs a further £6·1 million for the partnership funding and that it is looking to sources such as the Department for Social Development and the Irish Government. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure will give as much support as it can, but £4 million for the arts is as much as our resources allow. We are prepared to give whatever other support we can because the arts centre in Omagh is crucial, not least because of the vision for regeneration and the Omagh 2010 strategy.

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the Minister’s support for the Omagh arts project. Will his Department work with the Department for Social Development and Omagh District Council to realise the project as soon as possible?

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is working with all 26 councils, through the cultural forum, to develop local cultural strategies in each area and to ensure that local authorities dovetail with each other and with Departments. We will give all possible support to Omagh District Council as it pursues partnership funding through, for example, the Department for Social Development.

Photo of Derek Hussey Derek Hussey UUP

I welcome the detail of the Minister’s original answer. Mr Gibson identified the serious problem of several Departments’ involvement in the arts centre project and other proposals by the Strategy 2010 group in Omagh. Quite often, the total can be greater than the individual parts. If the programme were developed as a single scheme, its sum would be greater than the individual parts applied. Could the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure co-ordinate a cross-cutting bid to the Executive programme fund, which is intended to attract such bids?

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

The Department for Social Development is already bidding for Executive programme funds for the Omagh riverside regeneration project. That Department is alive to the challenges in Omagh, and it appears to be making progress. We will give that Department and any other potential partner funders all the support that we can.

As regards the arts centre, my Department is prepared to fund 50% of the arts element by providing some £4 million. That money was set aside in 1999, and Omagh District Council has yet to take it up. In that respect, the Department is doing its share.

Photo of Jim Wilson Jim Wilson UUP

I do not see Ms Armitage in the Chamber.