Howlin tried to save local troupe from Arts cuts
Minister wrote to Cabinet colleague asking for 'assurances' on behalf of street theatre group
THE Minister for spending cuts, Brendan Howlin, intervened in an Arts Council funding decision on behalf of a street theatre group from his own constituency.
Mr Howlin wrote to his Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan expressing "considerable concern" about a funding cut for Wexford-based Bui Bolg Productions.
Bui Bolg artistic director Colm Lowney confirmed his organisation approached the minister seeking assistance in securing funding for their street arts performance group.
The organisation received funding cuts in recent years, but other street arts groups, which received similar funding, no longer receive State support from the Arts Council.
The Arts Council has insisted the minister's intervention did not influence any of its funding decisions.
On May 22, 2012, Mr Howlin, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, wrote to Mr Deenihan on Department of Public Expenditure and Reform headed note paper on behalf of Bui Bolg Productions.
"It would be of considerable concern to me if funding were to be withdrawn from this much-admired organisation which makes a most valuable and valued contribution to the cultural life of Co Wexford," he wrote.
He added: "I would welcome your assurance that funding will continue to be made available by your department to Bui Bolg."
He also enclosed a submission from the theatre group.
On July 20, 2012, Minister Deenihan's private secretary forwarded the correspondence from Minister Howlin to Arts Council Director Orlaith McBride.
"I would appreciate if you could examine the issues raised and respond directly to Minister Howlin, if appropriate," she said.
On July 31, 2012, Ms McBride responded directly to Minister Howlin outlining the Arts Council's status as an independent body.
Ms McBride also mentioned funding cuts from central Government led to reduced resources in recent years.
"Unfortunately, the Arts Council has suffered reduced funding over the last number of years and difficult decisions had to be made by the Council," she said.
"It is with regret that the grant to Bui Bolg was reduced but this is due to the level of the Arts Council's cumulative funding reductions over the last number of years."
Along with all arts groups, Bui Bolg has borne the brunt of funding cuts since the onset of the recession.
In 2012, under the Arts Council's annual funding scheme, Bui Bolg's grant was cut from €137,500 to €70,000.
Donegal-based Inishowen Carnival Group, which received funding in the same category, saw its grant reduced from €34,500 to €4,163 in the same period.
Both groups were the only organisations categorised as 'street arts' in the annual funding allocations since 2008.
In 2013, Bui Bolg's funding was reduced to €66,500 and Inishowen Carnival was increased to €25,000.
This funding was allocated under the Street Arts Project scheme.
In 2014, Bui Bolg was the only organisation categorised as 'street arts' to receive an annual funding grant when it was awarded €60,000 by the Arts Council.
Inishowen Carnival Group project manager Kevin O'Neill said his group was told not to apply for annual funding but instead apply for project funding, which is another Arts Council scheme.
Mr O'Neill's application was unsuccessful and he did not receive any funding from the Arts Council.
The Sunday Independent understands Bui Bolg was also told to apply for project funding but it instead applied for annual funding and was successful.
Well-known street art theatre groups Macnas and Spraoi also received funding this year but they are classed as 'regularly-funded organisations' and receive bigger grants.
Mr O'Neill said he was not disappointed Bui Bolg received a grant but said the cut to his organisation's funding had serious implications.
"We are currently a completely voluntary organisation whereas we weren't before," he said.
"It has made a massive impact on us but we get on with things. We could probably close at any time if we lose the voluntary commitment."
Both Inishowen Carnival Group and Bui Bolg take part in the St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin every year.
Bui Bolg artistic director Mr Lowney said he was not sure if the minister's letter had any impact on funding allocations.
"It's hard to say if he did, people in the arts don't like to be told what they should or shouldn't do," he said.
Mr Lowney said the group was "influential" in Wexford Town as it ran youth programmes for children in the locality. Mr Lowney also said Minister Howlin taught his sisters when he was a national school teacher.
He said the group approached the minister because they felt they were not on an equal footing with other arts bodies which applied for funding.
The Arts Council this week confirmed Bui Bolg were advised to apply for project funding but did not take the advice.
"They applied for annual funding and the application met the criteria and it was successful," a spokesman said.
When asked about Inishowen Carnival Group's failure to receive funding, the Arts Council said: "We do not make public comment about applications from individual organisations.
"The individual organisation is absolutely entitled to the recommendation text which goes to the Arts Council and which contains a clear rational for the recommendation decision."
Minister Howlin did not respond to a request for comment.