2. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for her assessment of how adequately her Department supports marching bands in their search for funding, given that both the Arts Council and the Ulster-Scots Agency funding is limited and the criteria often do not apply to these groups. (AQO 590/11-15)
I thank the Member for his question. My Department offers substantial funding to marching bands from all communities. In the past five years, the Arts Council has provided over £800,000 to bands across the North through the musical instruments for bands scheme, over £90,000 through awards for all and the small grants programme, and over £800,000 for musical instruments tuition through the Ulster-Scots Agency’s financial assistance scheme.
In addition, my Department has produced a toolkit for marching bands, which can be found on our website. It provides information on funding available, as well as guidance on building on existing strengths and encouraging new approaches to maximise opportunities for development.
I thank the Minister for her answer. Some £18·3 million of DCAL’s annual budget has gone into Foras na Gaeilge. Forgive my pronunciation, but I have never had a great grasp of foreign languages. Clearly, that has had an impact on her ability to fund other projects. I wonder what advice she could give to my constituents who are in marching bands and are unable to obtain funding because the criteria of the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Arts Council has been constrained so much by budgetary reductions?
First of all, I take exception to the Member describing the Irish language as a foreign language, and I want to put that on the record. However, I appreciate his attempt to pronounce Foras na Gaeilge. At least he tried.
I met the Confederation of Ulster Bands less than a fortnight ago, and I thought that we had a very robust discussion. At no stage in that conversation did the bands raise the issue of parity of funding. What they wanted was continued support. They wanted to make sure that the processes that help them to pass on their skills and talents to children in communities and villages are supported, and I gave the commitment that my Department would work with them to bring forward sustainability and better monitoring processes.
No. DCAL makes sure that there is a commitment to promoting equality of opportunity, which includes good and better relations. Any organisations receiving funding through the Department and its arm’s-length bodies must comply with the equality and good relations policies of the relevant funding organisations. Anyone who does not comply will not be eligible for funding. The Arts Council and the Ulster-Scots Agency have advised me that they do not fund or support any bands that do not fully comply with those requirements. Indeed, at the time of application, the Arts Council and the Ulster-Scots Agency also check individual band’s websites to ensure that there is no evidence of content that would breach those requirements.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has met the Confederation of Ulster Bands, and I look forward to reading that press release. Has the Minister recently read the review of marching bands research that her Department commissioned? Does she see any actions coming out of that review that will promote marching bands as an expression of Northern Ireland culture?
I do not know whose press release the Member is looking forward to, but I met them two weeks ago. They did not see fit to make a press issue out of the meeting, and nor did I. It was just part of ongoing work that I, as Minister, need to do to build relationships.
I think that the point that the Member is making is: do I believe that the bands have a role in our society and communities? Yes, I do; absolutely. It is important that we use and build on the research that has been done, which we discussed at the meeting, and ensure skills development and a provision to pass those skills on. It is about building on existing practice to make it better, which is something we can all agree on.