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22 May 2008 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

What a performance

IT COULD BE the icon of peace and progress. But it now looks as if the iconic embryo of sport and culture has died in the process of being born, strangled by the faceless men  still lurking in the constituency of Ballygobackwards.
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and Sport has spent some £3.5 million to date on the Maze sports stadium, which was to include a museum dedicated to conflict resolution. It is becoming increasingly clear that the minister, Edwin Poots, has abandoned the project.
We know that senior civil servants in his department have been in open revolt against it since day one, although they have paid out millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to designers and consultants for the business planning, management and other costs linked to the stadium project.
That in itself should be investigated since it is likely that Peter Robinson will scupper the proposals on the grounds of cost. In fact, the whole debacle over the Long Kesh stadium should be subject to close scrutiny, especially in the light of recent comments by Robinson that the site should be developed for another purpose if the decision is made not to proceed with the stadium plan.
While it appears that sport and culture are about to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, concerns about costs and efficiency have not entered the equation in other areas of the Department of Culture, Arts, Leisure and Sport (DCALS). The allocation of taxpayers’ money to the ‘cultural and sporting’ activities of ‘blood and thunder’ loyalist bands has hardly raised an eyebrow.
Some 65 bands have been allocated £166,000 by the Arts Council, the Ulster Scots Agency and the National Lottery.
Among the bands receiving funding is the Pride of Ardoyne, which prides itself on its participation in the annual contentious parade past the Ardoyne shops in North Belfast. Its banner and emblems are dedicated to former band members UVF member Sam Rockett (murdered by the UDA during a loyalist feud) and William Hanna (killed by the British Army).
Other recipients of the generosity of DCALS are the Mourne Young Defenders Flute Band, who tootled their way to Dublin with Willie Frazer and the Love Ulster brigade.
But before we rush to complain that the allocation of funding to such organisations may have political implications, we should note that the Arts Council has declared it is not proscriptive on grounds of an applicant’s political or religious background and that it does monitor the artistic qualities of applicants.
That should be of some comfort to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, who last year narrowly escaped being stabbed and having their throats cut in the Assembly by Michael Stone, currently on trial on charges of attempted murder. Stone’s lawyer, in his defence, stated in court that the attempted murder is all part of ‘performance art’. That may go some way to explaining the performances of the ‘blood and thunder’ bands as they march through various nationalist areas and also the bizarre activities of some of the loyal orders.
It’s a pity that such ‘avant-garde’ performances in the unionist psyche have not embraced the Maze as the site for the future of culture, sport, and art.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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