Coronavirus: Arts sector money finally agreed in Covid package

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

  • Published
Theatre seatsImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Funding totalling £33m had been received by the executive in July from Westminster to support theatres and venues

Long-awaited Covid-19 funding to support Northern Ireland's arts sector has been approved by the Stormont Executive.

It was signed off by ministers as part of a wider £165m financial package on Thursday.

There will also be an additional £40m to support the operation of Northern Ireland's 11 councils.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said he hoped the money would have the "greatest possible impact".

"I'm sure the executive would like to see a broad spread of support for the arts, to ensure venues can open when they can but also support performers to provide that lifeline," he told Stormont's press briefing on Thursday.

"It's a vital part of our cultural life and a tourism attraction."

Funding of £33m had been received by the executive in July from Westminster to support theatres and venues, which have not been told yet when they will be able to reopen in Northern Ireland.

About £4m had previously been allocated, but ministers needed to approve how the rest would be spent, as part of wider financial allocations to Stormont departments seeking Covid-19 funding bids.

The Arts Council welcomed the announcement and said it would help offset some of the "devastating financial consequences" for those in the sector.

"We are heartened to see that the majority of the funding announced is aimed at helping our core arts and cultural organisations, as well as artists and creative practitioners, get through this crisis to year-end," said the body.

The organisation said it had been in contact with the Department for Communities to outline the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector, as well as what was needed to sustain it.

'Distributed fairly'

The Department for Communities has yet to finalise details of how much money some schemes will receive.

Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said her officials were "finalising proposals for a suite of funding schemes" to ensure the money was distributed quickly, fairly and to maximise its impact.

"I want to get this funding issued at the earliest opportunity," she said.

Mr Murphy also outlined extra support for business, infrastructure, schools and local councils.

Over £29m will go towards "business interventions", including support for the tourism industry and a holiday-at-home voucher scheme.

These plans were first reported by BBC News NI earlier this month.

Further support will be provided for skills and youth training, the minister said.

Northern Ireland's local government councils will receive £40m to help them continue to "provide essential services and support those in need".

Other support outlined by the executive include £14.6m for the A6 flagship road project, and £15m to NI Water for several projects.

There are also allocations for schools, with £9.2m towards helping them reopen fully, as well as £1m for pre-school settings and £200,000 for Special Educational Needs (SEN) support.

Other allocations announced include:

  • £11.4m for waste management
  • £5.8m for university research and development
  • £3.5m for higher and further education Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • £5m to support the Roads Winter Service
  • £1.6m for Stormont's Covid Track, Trace and Protect App

Mr Murphy said the executive recognised the health service will require additional funding to continue the fight against Covid-19 and is holding £600m "centrally" pending an assessment of costs.

A further £55m is also being held centrally for sectoral interventions including support for the bus, coach and taxi industry and to cover any future PPE requirements.

Last week, Mr Murphy said the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had blocked the "vital funding proposals" from getting on to the agenda.

It is understood the finance minister was in discussions with the DUP earlier this week about reaching agreement to allow the proposals to be raised at Thursday's meeting.