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Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Chief Executive and Chair speak out on the impact of a 5% reduction to the level of government funding.

Arts Council of Northern Ireland's Chair Liam Hannaway and Chief Executive Roisin McDonough
Arts Council of Northern Ireland's Chair Liam Hannaway and Chief Executive Roisin McDonough

Roisin McDonough

Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s (ACNI) Chief Executive and Chair have said the reduction to the funding the Arts Council receives from government means there is not enough to meet their objectives and will affect those most in need.

Last Thursday (22 June), it was confirmed that Northern Ireland’s Department of Communities (DfC) will be cutting the budget for all its arm’s length bodies by 5%, to help bridge a funding gap in excess of £111m.

The confirmation means ACNI’s baseline Exchequer resource allocation for 2023/24, excluding capital, stands at £9.682m. The figure represents a reduction of £4.451m since 2011/12, which in real terms is a reduction of £9.815m.


In releasing the DfC’s figures, Permanent Secretary Colum Boyle said the department’s shared priority remains “supporting the most vulnerable and at-risk in our society”.

However in a statement released on the Arts Council’s website, ACNI Chief Executive Roisin McDonough said that 5% cut to the arts “will come at a cost to the most under-represented members of our society”.

She added that Exchequer funding in Northern Ireland is now supporting just 23 arts organisations in ACNI’s Annual Funding Programme (AFP), equivalent to 27% of the entire portfolio.

ACNl is yet to publicly confirm how many arts organisations are being funded through  its AFP this year, but last month Arts Professional revealed the number is likely to fall after some organisations were told they were losing their portfolio status.

Cuts to government funding means ACNI is becoming increasingly reliant on other sources of funding, such as the National Lottery, which upholds the majority of investment going into its core funding channels.

“The government money available here is simply not enough to meet our fundamental objective, and one of the NI Executive’s priorities - to ensure that everyone has access to the arts,” McDonough added.

“The arts enrich our lives, the economy, bring communities closer together, contribute to better health and wellbeing and create a place where we all want to live, work and play. They aren’t a luxury, they a universal human right.”

Lowest investment in the UK

Government investment in the arts in Northern Ireland is the lowest in the UK.

Per capita, the arts in Northern Ireland receive £5.07, compared to its nearest competitor, Wales, at £10.51.

Meanwhile, the arts council in the Republic of Ireland, An Chomhairle Ealaíon, receives four times more funding than ACNI, at £21.58 per capita, and has delivered initiatives such as a universal basic income for artists pilot.

ACNI Chair Liam Hannaway says the Arts Council needs this latest cut reversed, and an additional £10.51m to compensate for the real terms cut over the last decade, if the funder is to achieve its ambitions.

He added that given the far-reaching social and economic benefits the arts sector brings to the region, this level investment would be “entirely appropriate”.

“We rely on our artists and a diverse range of arts organisations to help bring people together, to shift debates, change perspectives, as we strive towards increasing inclusion in Northern Ireland,” he added.

McDonagh and Hannaway’s comments come as a DfC equality impact consultation on the 5% budget to all its arm's lengths bodies, which also includes Museums NI and Libraries NI, remains open.

Open until August, the DfC says any responses will now be used to “inform further mitigation measures and reallocation of any additional funding available” this financial year.

Tough decisions

Arts organisations in Northern Ireland say they are facing difficult decisions amid the worsening funding climate.

Children’s arts provider Young at Art (YAA) is receiving standstill funding from ACNI for 2023/24, but its Director, Eibhlín de Barra, says this represents a real terms cut that is affecting the events planned for the year.

YAA has took the decision to not run two arts engagement programmes, which de Barra says means hundreds of children and young people in some of Belfast's most marginalised communities will miss out on receiving in-depth creative engagement sessions.

“We have become so skeletonised there's nothing else we can cut back or trim,” de Barra added.

“This year that will impact the scale of the festival's programme, how we can support, develop and train our staff, but most importantly our capacity to deliver our engagement programmes. And that impacts our ability to support the social and emotional wellbeing of disadvantaged children. That's the stark reality we are facing.”

“This is the most precarious situation we have faced in our 25 year history.”