Newry Mourne & Down Sinn Féin Councillor Willie Clarke has stated that he shares the deep disappointment of many after the recent Council decision in relation to Council funding including protocols, criteria and procedures for Tourism events within the area.
"Those who portray this decision as in effect ensuring the creation of a larger and more accessible funding stream which represents a fair and more practical approach to funding festivals in our district, are purposely misleading all involved with the promotion of Tourism & Community enhancing based events"
The Councillor explained
"Sinn Féin supported the proposal where the major Council festivals would be protected and able to absorb the extra £30,000 which would be made available for Community / Voluntary tourism festivals, with a proven track record of delivering a high standard tourism festival experience.
In recent Workshops to discuss a Tourism Funding strategy, I along with other colleagues lobbied for and ensured the maximum level of funding for festivals such as Fiddlers Green, Blues in the Bay and the Soma festival, would be raised from £10,000 to £15,000. This I argued would enable the organisers to continue to expand their festivals.
The remaining £15,000 would be available to increase the funding for other tourism festivals or allow a number of new festivals to make a bid for funding from the tourism funding pot (£135,000).
The Festival of Flight which was lauded by all including those who voted against our proposal was to be extended as a 2-day festival, however, this because of the Council decision, will now not happen.
The Sinn Féin elected representative continued
"Our proposal also oils have seen the major expansion of The Wake the Giant Festival. This would have included a number of extra giants being located throughout the Council area, with a festival bringing them all together which would have involved schools and communities. The Festival would have concluded with a major Parade in Warrenpoint. Again, these expansions will not happen due to the decision made by Council".
His colleague Councillor Roisin Mulgrew expressing her deep regret at the decision by the Council commented,
"The cutting of the tourism budget forced through council by SDLP, UUP and Independent councillors is reckless, short-sighted and flies in the face of our Councils plan to make Newry Mourne & Down area one of the key tourism regions of the island.
Many including myself believe that Community Groups are being deliberately misled by some of those involved in voting against our proposals. The money removed from the council organised tourism events is to be made available to community-led tourism events. However, the vast majority of community events that receive council funding do so from the voluntary contribution funding stream as they are seen as community events and not economic drivers or likely to attract tourists.
There within, lies the problem and it is one that will cause major problems to most.
The tourism budget comes from the enterprise regeneration and tourism directorate and the criteria for any groups applying for such funds are extremely rigorous, I have no doubt that many groups will find being eligible for such funding very challenging".
The south Armagh Councillor commenting on what she described as the savage cut in particular to the Footsteps in the Forest Festival stated,
"I and all of my fellow Sinn Fein councillors because of prejudices and spiteful opposition had to fight long and hard to ensure substantial funding and investment for south Armagh and in particular Slieve Gullion. The returns for the investment in terms of benefit to the economy and communities has been excellent.
Slieve Gullion is the most visited Forest Park amenity within the entire council area and is to date the only Park with Green Flag Accreditation. Furthermore, it receives more out of district visitors than any other facility.
Concluding the Slieve Gullion elected representative stated,
"The decision to slice funding for the key Footsteps in the Forest Festival is a disgrace and should be deemed a very personal attack on all Community activists who for years have fought against the grain to get the Gullion Area respected and treated fairly.