Northern Ireland news

DUP restores marching bands funding after Sinn Fein pulled grants

New DUP communities minister Paul Givan has reinstated grants for marching bands

A £200,000 GRANTS scheme for marching bands has been reinstated by a DUP minister - a year after his Sinn Fein predecessor cut the fund.

In one of his first significant moves since taking up the post of communities minister in May, Paul Givan said he would bring back the initiative for 2016/17.

The restoration of the grants, announced on the eve of the Twelfth, comes at a time when budgets across the arts sector have been slashed.

The Musical Instruments for Bands Programme will provide £500 to £5,000 for the purchase of instruments.

Mr Givan said it would benefit the more than 20,000 people in marching bands across the north.

"Our parading culture has been described as 'Northern Ireland’s best kept secret' and the reinstatement of this funding for the purchase of musical instruments will be welcome news for those who participate in this important sector," he said.

“These bands contribute to our society not just musically, but providing structure, discipline and a social outlet for a huge number of young people across Northern Ireland. They are an integral part of life in Northern Ireland and I will continue to work to ensure that adequate resources are available for this sector.”

Since 2011, £200,000 had been allocated each year to the Arts Council for the instruments scheme.

But in April last year then culture, arts and leisure minister Carál Ní Chuilín announced it would be "put on hold" due to budget pressures.

She was later accused by the DUP of favouring "pet projects".

William Humphrey accused her of making cuts to marching bands and the Ulster Scots Agency while handing the Liofa Irish language project £900,000 on top of £3m that cross-border body Foras na Gaeilge gets.

Ms Ní Chuilín said at the time she hoped to seek funding for the grants in future budgets.

Earlier this month, there were protests across Northern Ireland against proposed cuts to library services, with 14 branches facing reduced opening hours.

Last October, it was revealed that some of the north's most high-profile arts organisations, including the Lyric Theatre and MAC in Belfast and the Playhouse Theatre in Derry, would face cuts of seven per cent after the budget of the Arts Council was cut by a further £870,000.

However, £620,000 of that was reinstated following November's budget.

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