Monday, July 22, 2024

Here comes the sun but let’s have a re-think on how national events are funded

With less than four months to go, the return of the Fleadh to Mullingar in August and what that means for everyone involved is very much back on the agenda.

Last year’s ‘week in the sun’ will stir many happy memories – it was a great event for people, for music and for Mullingar. The town was ‘buzzing’ and the Fleadh brought some welcome national limelight.

The hope at that time – and, let’s face it, the expectation too – was that Comhaltas Ceoiltóirí Éireann (CCE) would choose the town to host the 2023 Fleadh too, and that came to pass last September.

So now, on this side of a miserable winter, it’s time to look forward and be positive about another brilliant week of music come August.

While the local organisers of the Fleadh will certainly be looking forward to the festival, they must first overcome an obstacle which seems to get bigger by the day – the cost of hosting Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2023.

Last year, the committee had to find north of €2m, and it’s obvious that this year’s event will be more expensive – everything is more expensive than 12 months ago. At some stage, somebody, somewhere, is going to ask if it’s feasible, or if it’s fair, to expect a voluntary committee to raise that kind of money to host what is a national event.

It’s a national event, it is as Irish as an event can be, it’s a wonderful way of copperfastening our cultural identity (especially with a worldwide audience), more than 500,000 people will come along to enjoy its offerings…so why is a local, voluntary committee expected to get the money together to host it?

Last summer, we and other media outlets received countless press releases from politicians, announcing that some government funding for the Fleadh had been agreed; we remember that Catherine Martin – Minister for Tourism, Arts, Culture, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media – chipped in with €150,000; that’s a lot of money, but it still left the local organisers with the mother of all mountains to climb to ensure the costs of hosting Fleadh 2022 were covered.

‘Maybe it’s time for a re-think on the issue of funding a Fleadh. Maybe it should become the responsibility of the Arts Minister…’

Other grants were promised too and national and local sponsorship was secured, but still…is it fair or realistic to expect a local, voluntary group to raise in excess of €2m for a week-long event? And, come to think of it, is it right to expect a local authority – such as Westmeath County Council – to find hundreds of thousands of euro from its over-stretched budget just to provide services for a week-long, national event?

Maybe it’s time for a re-think on the issue of funding a Fleadh. Maybe it should become the responsibility of the Arts Minister, working alongside CCÉ. Every Fleadh will need a good local organising committee – and Mullingar’s has been and is quite superb – but a target is only a target if it’s achievable. As it is, the cost of a Fleadh is a national celebration dropped into the laps of a small group of local individuals. That cannot continue.

As things stand, that small group of local individuals are working hard to get the funding to stage Fleadh 2023 in Mullingar. They need the support of everyone in the town and hinterland, and especially businesses, and more especially those which will benefit from the festival.

We do not have inside information, but it’s no secret that promised sponsorship and financial support is slow in coming. Perhaps the model of funding a Fleadh is broken; much more state support and less reliance on a local economy is surely the way forward.

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