N. Ireland Politics

Band instrument grants 'will not resume without NI executive'

Drummers in a loyalist marching band Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The scheme helped bands to pay for new musical instruments to replace older equipment

A scheme to pay for musical instruments for bands will not operate in 2017-18 without being approved by an executive minister, the BBC has learned.

Northern Ireland has been without an executive since January, when power-sharing between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin collapsed.

The grant scheme was paid for by the Department for Communities (DfC).

It provided grants of between £500 and £5,000 for bands to buy new or replace worn-out instruments.

The programme was run by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

'Political football'

The DUP Paul Givan announced the resumption of the grants in 2016, when he was communities minister.

That was after the programme had been suspended by his predecessor, Sinn Féin's Carál Ní Chuilín, the previous year.

Initially, £200,000 was made available, mostly to marching bands, but eventually 68 bands were offered funding through the scheme in 2016-17.

The total cost was £298,000.

However, a spokesperson for the DfC said that the scheme would not automatically reopen for applications this year.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Flute, accordion and pipe bands were among the recipients of grants in 2016-17

"No further scheme has been approved by ministers for the present financial year," they said.

"Any further financial allocations to a scheme will be for consideration by a future minister."

Several attempts to restore devolution at Stormont have failed, with the parties remaining divided on several issues.

'Improve our performance'

Derek Moore from the Londonderry Bands Forum said that the grant scheme had been used as a "political football".

"I've made it clear to all the parties that I've felt that," he said.

"In Londonderry, only three bands received funding last year - two from loyalist areas and one from a nationalist area - so this money is not specifically for Orange bands.

"Obviously any kind of funding was welcome but 68 bands got something last year, which is only 10% of the bands in Northern Ireland."

Mr Moore said he felt any future scheme should be performance-related rather than used solely to pay for instruments.

"We are working with the Ulster Orchestra at the minute, for example, to improve the quality of our performance.

"We need to look at the musicianship of the 30,000 members attached to bands."

Accordion, flute, pipe and silver bands were among the recipients of grants from the scheme in 2016-17.

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