Northern Ireland

McCausland defends intervention over festival programme

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

The culture minister has defended asking the organisers of the Belfast Festival at Queen's to include pro-Israeli views and Christian music.

Nelson McCausland's demands were made in an e-mail 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".

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.

The e-mail was 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.

E-mail

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 lists 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".

Mr McCausland defended his intervention.

Shared future

"What I was saying to the festival, and I have said it to other arts organisations and sectors, is that if we are to build a shared and better future in NI, then it must be based on balance, fairness and inclusion," he said.

"You can't have a shared future based on discrimination and exclusion and simply, I was saying to them, make sure that your programmes, over a period of time, reflect balance, fairness and inclusion."

The culture minister said he had asked the festival to include pro-Israeli views as a previous Israeli speaker had had his invitation withdrawn at the last minute by the festival.

"How can you have a situation like that? It's bad for the image of Northern Ireland," he said.

Mr McCausland said he had asked the festival to include Christian music after attending a southern gospel event.

Logic and argument

"Here is a popular musical genre that would attract a considerable audience, I would hope that over a period of time, you would include that sort of music, because one of the things we're saying to the festival and others is, you must generate as much income as possible.

"There was a logic and argument behind what I was saying."

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.

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