Watch: Protestant marching bands’ plight raised by Middleton at Stormont

Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín says she’s still supportive of the marching band tradition despite placing the musical instrument for bands scheme on hold until after this month at the earliest.

The Minister has also once again discounted a publicly-funded report on the economic benefits of Protestant band parades.

She was quizzed about the withdrawal of funding for the musical instruments for bands scheme by DUP MLA Gary Middleton after her confirmation in March that she didn’t have the money to continue funding it due to a shortfall in her department’s budget.

Mr Middleton raised the matter at Stormont on Monday, asking what plans she had to source funding to restore the musical instruments for bands scheme.

The Minister replied: “Unfortunately, there is a shortfall in my Department’s capital budget for 2015/16, which means that it must be restricted to meeting contractually committed expenditure only.

“The earliest that my Department can consider capital allocations beyond contractual commitments will be after the outcome of the June monitoring round is known.

“The musical instruments for bands scheme is therefore on hold, and I will submit a bid in June monitoring.

“In addition, the ongoing promotion of some pipe band contests and solo competitions and, for example, the all-Ireland fleadh, have been examples that I have used to try to bring additional money in.

“I am still very supportive of the role that the culture in musical bands and the marching bands tradition has to play here, but given the situation that my Department is in financially, it is something that I hope will change in the not-too-distant future.”

The Minister, however, went on to once again dismiss an Orange Order commissioned report that in 2013 pointed out the positive financial benefits of the Protestant marching band tradition.

The Orange Order commissioned report - funded by the Department of Social Development (DSD) - was conducted by RSM McClure Watters and published in May 2013.

Mr Middleton put it to the Minister: “Following a study recently undertaken by DSD outlining the significant benefits that bands have on the local economy in Northern Ireland, does the Minister agree that such funding is value for money? Will she ensure that it is a priority as the outcome of the June monitoring round?”

She replied: “The study is not recent; it is a few years old, but I suppose that it is something that the Department can rely on if it so wishes.

“It pointed up the amount of money that was invested, particularly around the Twelfth, but I would be loath to use it because the gaps in the study did not point up the amount of money that is potentially lost.

“However, I value the role that marching bands have to play, so I wish to separate marching bands from that study, if the Member does not mind. I do not think that the study lends itself to the cause of the marching bands, but I have made a very robust bid for June, and I hope that that is met.”

Meanwhile, SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly suggested consideration be given to the imposition of additional criteria for qualification for grant aid for musical instruments so recipients “have to show respect for other communities in the usage of them.”

The Minister also told the DUP MLA Sammy Douglas that well over half-a-million pounds has been ivnested in the instruments scheme.

“In recent years, it is well over half a million pounds. In fact, it is probably well over £700,000 so far. Given the demand and the need for marching bands from all traditions right across the North, there is a demand for that funding pot to be increased.”