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Councillors hit out at ‘closed door’ Arts Grant application process

Independent Councillors
Independent councillors Maeve Yore, Jim Tenanty, Hugh Conlon. Photo Credit: Kathy Gilroy-Barry.

A number of councillors have hit out at Louth County Council over what they call a “unfair” and “biased” grant process for Arts Grants in the county. On Monday, councillors heard that €27,875 was award to 29 groups or individuals via this round of funding.

Monday’s monthly meeting of Louth County Council saw accusations that the local authority’s granting of applications was not “open and transparent”, while a number of councillors agreed that changes to the criteria and allocation of funding needed to be reviewed.

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Independent councillor Maeve Yore, speaking in the meeting said, “Other local authorities vote – why don’t we? In the last few years it went from voting to noting. Dundalk Active Retirement have 100 members – they’re getting €2.90 each for music and art. It’s unfair. We need an open and transparent process.”

“It should be fair for everybody,” she added. “The same people keep getting it.” Cllr Yore said there are artists who have received funding every year since she was elected in 2014, leading her to believe others are not given a fair opportunity to access the grant.

Paddy Donnelly, Director of Services for Louth County Council responded. “I want to dispense with any suggestion that this is not an open and transparent grant scheme. I want to dispel that.” He told the meeting that a change in law in 2012 took members right to vote on the funding allocations away.

“All applications are considered on merit, “he continued.

“We should be encouraging all artists across Louth to apply for funding. It should be fair and process should be open and transparent, “Cllr Yore told LouthNow.ie after the meeting. “I welcome the fact that Joan Martin has committed to discussing with the management team how best to award going forward and I note that the Director of Services advised all applicants that applied in this round were awarded some funding.

“Artists have raised with me over the years they don’t bother applying anymore as it’s a ‘closed shop’.” Cllr Yore also said she was glad that other councillors spoke up on the issue.

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Dunleer-based councillor Hugh Conlon highlighted what he perceived to be a bias towards the north of the county. Of the 29 applicants awarded funding – Paddy Donnelly confirmed every applicant received funding – 17 are based in Blackrock, Dundalk town or north of that.

“There is a serious imbalance weighted in favour of Dundalk and the north of the county,” he said. “The north of the county is getting a whopping 78% of this funding, while Drogheda is getting a risible 13% – with Mid-Louth in between getting €590. Two applicants from Dublin got €2,300 total grants for online activity.

“For the last 12 years, the distribution has always seen a bias towards the north of the county – each and every year,” Cllr Conlon continued.

“Is the town of Drogheda – after hosting two Fleadh Cheoils so devoid of creativity that it can only muster 16% of the funding. Also Mid-Louth, is bursting with creativity in Ardee, Dunleer and Castlebellingham.”

Only Ardee Ladies Group (€340) and Niamh Gillespie, a Togher-based Visual Artist (€250) received funding in the mid-Louth area.

Cllr Conlon proposed that each Municipal District would get a guide, minimum grant based on population breakdown -possible for €10,000 for Drogheda, €6,000 in Mid-Louth and €14,000 in Dundalk. “Serious changes are needed,” he said.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Conor Keelan said that his colleague’s idea was “interesting” but he disagreed with the idea that artists in Dundalk were receiving preferential treatment.

Cllr Tomas Sharkey of Sinn Féin was strongly in disagreement that funding should be made available depending on geographical areas. “I reject that we would use geography – people are being that if you live in one part of the county that you shouldn’t have an opportunity based on merit to get this grant.”

“This comes up every year. Change is needed,” Ardee Municipal District councillor Jim Tenanty said. Independent councillor Kevin Callan said it should be done on a more locally-based system.

In addition to the €27,785, Dundalk Grammar School received €1,300 for an Irish Harp, a flute,  a clarinet, a keyboard and five music stands.

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