Community Festivals came under the spotlight yesterday at the monthly Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council yesterday when they once again discussed the Tourism Events Programme Open Fundaing Call and proposed a 15% / 85% budget split between the Open Funding Call and main Tourism Event Programme.

Following yesterdays lively debate Slieve Gullion Councillor and Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee Chairperson Pete Byrne has said that he will continue to call for Community Festivals to be treated fairly in terms of budget allocation.

Caolan Dooley performing at the 2017 Pride in Newry Festival. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Caolan Dooley performing at the 2017 Pride in Newry Festival. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Cllr Byrne said, "Earlier this year Newry, Mourne and Down District Council launched its 5 year tourism plan as we strive to become the Premier tourist destination on the island. The strategy is developed around the theme of mountains, myths and maritime with festivals featuring prominently as part of the document. It is important we continue to recognise the positive input these tourism events have for both the local economy and the image of our district. Last year in the district, tourism brought in over £11million to our economy and I commend all, both council and community led, who successfully ran festivals and events throughout the year.  It is important that we continue to grow each and every one of these festivals and with council working side by side with community groups I believe we can increase our tourism product dramatically. It is important that we dont solely focus our attention and resources on Council events while ignoring the the fantastic events that are being delivered by many community groups across our district. That is why I have argued for a 85%/15% split of the £1.2 million available for delivering tourism events, effectively doubling the funding available for community groups.

Mr Byrne continued "This would allow for a fair and more practical approach for the funding of community organised festivals and address the imbalance that currently exists. We must be mindful that it is the ratepayers money which delivers these events and where possible we must put this money back into their hands particularly where events have proved hugely successful and have the potential to grow. It is only by Council and community groups working together that we can make this district into the premier tourism destination that we have set out to achieve.

"I completely reject any suggestion that the proposal we in the SDLP supported represents a cut. We are simply not comfortable with supporting the exponential growth of Council organised festivals at the expense of those driven by community groups especially those which have had decades of success. The Pride In Newry festival is just one example of a community driven event which is falling through the cracks under the current regime. Here we have a successful and increasingly popular event which has seen a 56% cut in funding from this very tourism event pot over the last 3 years."

Highlighting the contribution of community group organised festivals Clr Byrne added "There is no better way to showcase this region more authentically than through festivals organised by local community groups. We as a Council have a programme of events scheduled for the year ahead, some of which have been established by local people and are contributing significantly to our economy every year. The continued promotion of this district especially through the organisation of community festivals is something I am extremely passionate about. I will continue to champion these where possible as a public representative and as Chairperson of ERT to ensure fairness."