Northern Ireland news

Irish language theatre company may be forced to close after it lost out on Arts Council funding

Bríd Ó Gallchóir, artistic director of Irish language theatre company Aisling Ghéar. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE north's leading Irish language theatre company Aisling Ghéar has warned it may be forced to close after it lost core Arts Council funding.

The company, based in the Cultúrlann in west Belfast, said the loss of funding had come as a blow amid a rise in the number of Irish speakers in Northern Ireland.

The company's artistic director, Bríd Ó Gallchóir said it was told it had been turned down for two reasons - that the funding application "lacked innovation" and that the company had not submitted its board minutes.

She said the Arts Council normally requested the board minutes "and that was the practice over many years".

Ms Ó Gallchóir said any issues with the funding application "could easily have been resolved".

The company requested that the Arts Council review its decision. The review is ongoing.

Although the company can apply for funding for separate projects, Ms Ó Gallchóir said it will not be able to continue full-time.

"We've been given a soft landing of £15,000 which in effect is to see the wrapping up of a full-time company," she said.

"This year and in 2023 we have a really exciting programme.

"On top of that we managed to get £60,000 from Future Screen NI to employ a business development and marketing officer over three years."

She added: "I will be administering that post on no wages."

The company aims to put on a one-act play, Minimal Human Contact, by Naoise Ó Cairealláin, who performs in popular Irish language hip hop trio Kneecap.

Ms Ó Gallchóir said she had decided not to put on the show during the pandemic because it could not be performed properly amid social distancing.

She said the show "will be a game-changer for us", given Mr Ó Cairealláin's fame.

The company, which was founded in 1997 in west Belfast, celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.

Ms Ó Gallchóir said the funding cut was difficult to accept given that an Irish Language Act will finally be enacted after decades of lobbying.

"The number of people speaking Irish is growing daily," she said.

She added: "The closure of Aisling Ghéar could see Gaelgeoirí lose out on the opportunity to experience the theatre in their own language.

"We're the only ones who can do it, we're the only ones who qualify to do it, and it means that we're the only ones who bring a service to a lot of organisations."

The theatre group has sought legal advice over the withdrawal of funding.

Solicitor Patricia Coyle, who is acting on behalf of the group, said: "Aisling Ghéar has prepared an innovative programme

which will promote Irish language in the coming year".

"The deprivation of state funding at this time would be a devasting blow not just to the theatre group but to the Irish language

community."

A spokeswoman for the Arts Council said: "The Arts Council has given Aisling Ghéar detailed feedback on their initial Annual Funding Application, and advice on other grant programmes which they can apply to."

"Aisling Ghéar has submitted a request for a funding review which is under consideration."

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