North/south Donegal divide surfaces over arts funding

Members of the Donegal Electoral Area Committee are angry at the way funding for festivals is allocated across the county. They raised the issue at last Thursday’s meeting in Drumlonagher, with councillors claiming that too much funding is given to Letterkenny and the north of the county at the expense of the rest of the county.

Members of the Donegal Electoral Area Committee are angry at the way funding for festivals is allocated across the county. They raised the issue at last Thursday’s meeting in Drumlonagher, with councillors claiming that too much funding is given to Letterkenny and the north of the county at the expense of the rest of the county.

The topic arose when Cllr. Barry O’Neill (FG) asked what was happening regarding the Donegal Gathering. He noted that Failte Ireland had invited applications for ‘significant events’ to take place next year. The deadline, however, had been moved forward six months.

“Over the last two years, the deadline for this type of funding was January 10, but this year they’ve moved it forward to June 26, which means that we would need to be moving fast to get an application in.”

Mr Barney McLaughlin, Area Manager for Community & Enterprise, said local authorities would be “getting more involved with Failte Ireland” in this regard over the coming weeks.

Cllr. Sean McEniff (FF) emphasised: “There should be two major events in the county, one in the south and one in the north.”

Cllr. O’Neill said consultation was vital: “If there are going to be two big events in the county, then it shouldn’t be discussed just in Lifford and us left out of it. It’s my understanding that there are already big plans underway to do something big at Rockhill. I wouldn’t like to see Failte Ireland put big money into The Gathering for a big event in Letterkenny, then funding for all the little events get sliced.

“It’s important that the programming is got right, too.There’s no point giving people a fortune to bring in a big act that nobody here wants to see. I hope The Gathering doesn’t turn into a white elephant, which might happen if it’s not organised properly.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’ll be moving on it for my hometown. I’ve already spoken with Cllr. Meehan about it and I’ll be putting an application in.

Mr McLaughlin agreed that there should be more than one event in the county. He added: “You’ve two major arts festivals in the county, north and south and you’ve a plethora of other festivals and events, so you look at what you have already and build on it. You don’t want to parachute in on top of all that and damage what somebody has already built. You look at trying to fill gaps. I can assure you members will be advised before anything is finalised.”

This assurance, however, was not good enough for Cllr. Brendan Byrne (FF). “ I have a problem with that. Members should be present when those discussions are taking place. We are now six weeks from a funding deadline and we don’t know what’s in and what’s out. Things such as the Gathering are tremendous opportunties to promote the county and to build something, so the more brains you have around the table, the better. Whoever is formulating the plan, is working in isolation and not having any consultation with anyone else.

“I have problems with this approach because we lose out. When someone from Glencolmcille applied for funding for an event, they were told they couldn’t apply because their event wasn’t within the dates of the Earagail Arts Festival. To tick a box, to satisfy the need for geographical spread, the Earagail Arts Festival will hold a fiddle workshop or something like that down our way but it will be so poorly advertised there might only be five at it.

“Approximately €200,000 in funding is going into Letterkenny with the Earagail Arts Festival but look at what’s going into Inishowen and south Donegal by comparison.”

Cllr. O’Neill said the County Manager should “take ownership of this because it’s so high profile.”

Cllr. Byrne proposed that the committee “send a letter back up the line to say that we are not at all happy at the lack of engagement regarding The Gathering” and this proposal was supported by all present.