Northern Ireland

McCausland seeks pro-Israeli views at Belfast festival

Nelson McCausland
Image caption Nelson McCausland's comments were made in an e-mail

The BBC has learned that the culture minister has requested that the programme for Belfast Festival at Queen's includes pro-Israeli views and christian music.

Nelson McCausland's demands are in an email to the director of the Belfast Festival, which was obtained through a freedom of information request.

Mr McCausland said he would like "some southern gospel music" included.

He also wanted "a view sympathetic to Israel in any relevant talk or debate".

The Belfast Festival is supported by a number of funders. Its major sponsor is the Ulster Bank which announced a three-year sponsorship deal of £1m in 2008.

It has also received £300,000 in funding from DCAL over the past three years, and it will receive £100,000 from the Arts Council through its annual funding stream in 2011.

Last year the minister criticised what he described as "excessive swearing" during the play Black Watch - which is about the experience of soldiers in Iraq.

Mr McCausland, who became the culture minister in June 2009, attended a dinner with the Vice Chancellor of Queen's to discuss this year's festival programme.

He and some of his officials also held a meeting with staff from Queen's, including the festival director Graeme Farrow, in March 2010 to discuss the content of the festival.

Debate

The email is part of an exchange between the director of the Belfast Festival at Queen's, Graeme Farrow, and the permanent secretary at DCAL.

In an e-mail seen by the BBC Mr Farrow mentioned that he was preparing a paper for the minister's attention.

The permanent secretary replied that the minister expected the paper to: "propose an audit over, say, the last five or six years of the range of views represented in political talks and debates in the festival and of the range of traditional music in relevant cultural events."

The e-mail goes on to list two specific things which the minister wanted to see included in the festival.

It said the minister would like to see "a view sympathetic to Israel in any relevant talk or debate" included in the festival programme and "some southern gospel music, which is immensely popular".

During 2010 Mr McCausland had expressed his concern about a conflict in the Middle East debate when he thought there should have been a more balanced panel.

He also criticised what he saw as the excessive swearing in plays on his personal blog after he attended the play 'Black Watch', which is about the experience of soldiers in Iraq.

It has also emerged that Mr McCausland has also held a meeting about the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in January 2011.

The Chair of the Cathedral Quarter steering group Paul McErlane, and the Director of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival Sean Kelly, also attended the meeting.

The only other people at the meeting were a representative from the Ulster-Scots Community Network, members of the Queen's Island male voice choir, and a representative from Devine Authority Radio.

Divine Authority Radio had been Northern Ireland's first 24-hour Southern Gospel Christian Radio Station, although it has now ceased broadcasting.

The BBC has spoken to people who were at this meeting and they stress that the Minister did not make any direct representation about including any of these groups in the Cathedral Quarter Arts festival.