Arts Council defends £5k in funding for Bobby Sands book

Arts Council chief executive Roisin McDonough
Arts Council chief executive Roisin McDonough Arts Council chief executive Roisin McDonough

THE Arts Council chief executive has declined to answer questions about why her organisation spent taxpayers money on promoting an IRA man as a "freedom fighter."

The publication, entitled 'Bobby Sands, Freedom Fighter', has been heavily criticised by unionist politicians as "glorifying terrorism."

The comic book carries an epilogue from Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, above a drawing of him with Brendan Hughes.

The illustrated book was written by graphic novelist Gerry Hunt and published by O'Brien Press in Dublin after it received funding from the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

A National Lottery spokesman last night said the decision to provide funding for the book was taken by the Arts Council.

He said more than £1 billion of cash is provided to organisations in Northern Ireland through more than 20,000 grants.

"Money raised by National Lottery players is distributed by a number of funding bodies including the Arts Council Northern Ireland," he said.

"Individual grants are a matter for these bodies and subject to their terms and conditions."

Arts Council chief executive Roisin McDonough was unavailable yesterday to explain why the organisation had provided funding for the publication.

However, in a statement the Arts Council said it had received a "strong application" from O'Brien Press, which it described as one of Ireland's largest publishers and said it had "satisfied all of our criteria".

"The Bobby Sands book, a full colour graphic novel by Gerry Hunt, is by an author and illustrator who has a significant track record in the genre of graphic novels and has written other historical graphic novels," it said.

"A total of £5,116 was awarded to O'Brien Press towards the Bobby Sands book.

"It was a strong application from O'Brien Press which satisfied all of our criteria: one of Ireland's leading publishers and a writer/illustrator with a strong track record.

"The Arts Council of Northern Ireland supports a number of publishers who distribute works by Northern Irish writers and work of cultural value to Northern Ireland.

"We do not interfere with editorial content nor do we draw a line regarding content chosen by publishers which may attract controversy."

The Arts Council is an arms-length body of the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure.

A DCAL spokeswoman said the department, which is run by a Sinn Féin minister, had no comment to make on the matter.