NI Political Parties: Arts Policies 2017

March 2nd is the fast approaching date for the next set of Stormont elections. We recently wrote to all the main political parties asking about their policies for the arts. We also collated existing published information and researched new manifestos to come up with this list of party positions towards the arts in Northern Ireland.

This email was sent to all the main political parties standing in the March 2nd 2017 Assembly elections.

Dear xxx

As the March 2nd elections are nearly upon us, can you provide me with your current Arts & Culture policy for Northern Ireland?

In 2016 Visual Artists Ireland released our fourth survey of The Social, Economic, and Fiscal Status of the Visual Artist in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The survey shows that although 98% of visual artists work in their main area of practice, only 32% have the ability to make this a full time job. 76% of visual artists live under the poverty line with clear disparities based on gender and age.

In order to reverse this trend and improve the wages and living conditions of artists in Northern Ireland we hope that you will agree to support the following objectives:

  • The return of a dedicated Department for Culture: to support and promote culture; to form a bridge across all government departments so that culture becomes central to Assembly decision making; with a seat at the cabinet table; and supporting the continued financial support of the arts sector.
  • A commitment to design and deliver the Programme for Government in consultation and with the support of the arts sector.
  • A commitment to recognise the importance of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, as an Arms Length Body, to form and deliver an Arts Strategy for Northern Ireland.
  • Recognise the importance of the individual artist in a strong sector through a guaranteed minimum level of income for creative workers.
  • Increased capital, project, and core funding to be made available through ACNI.
  • Link the budgetary spend to the UK / Ireland average per head.
  • Tax exemption on creative works.
  • Increased spending on public art programmes.
  • Recognise that creativity and the arts play a key role in education and learning by moving from a STEM to STEAM based curriculum.

I look forward to receiving your response.

Kind regards,


Rob Hilken
Northern Ireland Manager
Visual Artists Ireland


Workers’ Party


Thanks you for getting in touch and apologies for the delay.

The Workers Party, and I personally as an occasional performer, understand and support the contribution which art and culture can and do make to society.

We are also acutely aware of the relentless commodification of our society, the resultant debasing of many of our values and the persistent repetition of the erroneous argument that the arts are an add on in life and should therefore pay for and look after themselves.

I don’t believe that is not over stating the case

The Workers Party as identified and been critical of the cuts to arts and culture projects across Northern Ireland and of the immediate and longer term impacts that will have.

We are supportive of the initiative you have taken in setting out a series of objectives and broadly welcome these as an important marker in the public debate about the role of arts and culture, the contribution they can make, the involvement they should have and the centrality they should enjoy.

I would be very interested in arranging a meeting – post election – to discuss these objectives and the current arts and culture issues.

Many thanks for getting in touch and I look forward to hearing from you.

Gemma Weir

Workers Party
North Belfast


Hello Rob

Thank you for contacting me. We are launching our updated manifesto for this election next week. I would get into trouble for any early release of previews 🙂 but I am more than happy to share our Culture and Arts policies with you then.

Warmest regards

Adam Millar (Independent)

Hi there Rob,

Mate can I first of all thank you for taking the time to email me on the subject of Arts & Culture.

As a writer myself, I am deeply passionate about art and cultural forms of it, to include creative writing, poetry and urban arts.

I don’t believe that cutting funding to this luxury would help advance our communities and I will always be a propenent for ensuring that visual arts are a fully expressive part of our nature as they do more to improve our culture and reach hands across the divides that exist.

I also believe that performing arts are a vital piece of our expression, as someone who has worked in directing local productions centred around sectarianism and how to deal with it, and begin the process of moving away from it, I believe this to be an extraordinary outlet that allows our young people to be more open, more interactive and feel more at ease when in a mixed group of not only Protestants and Catholics but children of minority groups that are first generation Northern Ireland.

I want to see the funding there for everyone to express themselves by use of the arts, it is an important part for our culture in the 21st century, we have some of the most unique exports in the world of culture and arts, from Liam Neeson, Gary Lightbody, to name but a few, so in that regard I feel this will continue to be an important area of endeavour that requires our best effort to keep its spark ignited for all time.

Kind regards

Adam Millar.

Arts policies of the main political parties in Northern Ireland

This document was collated from information on party websites as well as information found at and the 2017 update at

You can find out more about candidates standing in the March 2nd 2017 elections at the following pages:


Visual Artists Ireland supports #ArtsMatterNI. Their website contains useful information on questions you could be asking your candidates, please refer to the campaign toolkit at:

Democratic Unionist Party

Policy Enquiries:

The DUP seems to have dropped all mention of the arts in their policies for this election. Under the ‘Taking pride in Northern Ireland’ of their website, there is no mention of the arts industry, or in their Assembly Manifesto 2016. A previous page,, now appears to be a dead link.

Sinn Fein

Party HQ:
Sinn Féin Assembly Business & Political Admin: (This document was last updated in 2001 and is no longer linked to from their main webiste)

The party does not seem to have released a separate Assembly Manifesto; however the following is taken from their General Election Manifesto, 2016, p36. Whether the same policies carry over to Northern Ireland is not stated.

Job creation in the arts and tourism sectors

We will increase funding to the Arts Council by 45% over the lifetime of the next government and ensure all grants and awards are made fairly and transparently. We will ensure through this funding, and through investment in community development programmes, that the arts play a key role in creating employment and recreation in communities, particularly in rural Ireland.

We will support better pay for musicians, writers, visual artists, actors and those involved in set productions through engagement with the Irish Writers’ Union, the Musicians’ Union of Ireland, Equity, the Playwrights’ and Screenwriters’ Guild and all other relevant bodies.

We will support artists, as the essential component of the arts world, in their lobbying for a better return from publishing and distribution companies, to make the arts a viable employment option.

We will maintain film relief as a way of supporting the Irish film industry.

We will maintain the 9% VAT rate for the tourism and hospitality sector.

Ulster Unionist Party

Party HQ:

Arts Policy Document:

The UUP have issued a separate paper on the arts, which is too lengthy to list in its entirely here, but can be downloaded from their website on the link above.

Ten-point summary:

  • Include the arts in the next Programme for Government, outlining the Executive’s acknowledgement of the importance of the arts and demonstrating a commitment to them.
  • Establish a working group between the Departments of Communities, Education, Health and the Economy to develop and agree cross-cutting priorities for the arts for the next 10 years.
  • Work with our eleven local government administrations to ensure cohesion in planning targets and outcomes.
  • Provide a longer term allocation of funding – with agreed aims and outcomes giving the sector a clearer picture of what they have to work with. This can bring a greater level of stability back to the sector and allow for lasting benefits from projects.
  • Empower our teachers to recognise and nurture the creative potential of our children.
  • Develop a 10-year strategy for excellence, challenging the arts sector, the creative industries, our universities, FE colleges and business to co-design a strategy to future-proof our place as competitors on the world stage.
  • Work with our universities and FE colleges to explore opportunities for partnerships that can both help increase the capacity of our smaller arts organisations, and in turn give practical experience to students.
  • Promote apprenticeships using the ‘Unlocking Creativity’ programme as a model to release individual creativity and ensure young people are prepared for careers in creative industries.
  • In the arena of competitive funding, favourable support will be presumed for projects which demonstrably enhance the overall cultural health of an area.
  • Work with NI Screen to develop a 10-year film strategy to increase production output.


Social Democratic & Labour Party

Party HQ:

(from ‘Make Change Happen’ Manisesto 2017.)

The SDLP is committed to supporting community arts and the development of our artistic talents as economic drivers. To ensure that this important aspect of our society is kept on the agenda, the SDLP will form a Cultural Advisory Group to the Minister and introduce the long awaited Culture and Arts Strategy. The SDLP is fully supportive of Derry City and Strabane Council and Belfast City Council’s joint bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.

(from ‘Build A Better Future’ Manifesto 2016, p44-45. This manifesto is no longer linked on their website)

The SDLP recognises the hugely important role of the Culture, Arts and Leisure sector in Northern Ireland. Year on year, culture and arts are hit with budget cuts and in the last mandate, the Culture Minister failed to pass any legislation to help the sector.

Ireland has a rich creative, linguistic and artistic heritage and many Northern Irish poets, authors, musicians and artists are world renowned. The SDLP is committed to continued support for community arts and for the development of our artistic talents into economic drivers.

The Department of Communities will have responsibility for Culture and Arts in Northern Ireland.

To ensure that this important aspect of our society is kept on the agenda, the SDLP will:

  • Form a Cultural Advisory Group to the Minister.
  • Create and introduce a new Culture and Arts Strategy.

Creative Industries

As proud supporters of the arts the SDLP wishes to build on the economic success of our creative industries. The talent of our artists has led many large international companies to base projects in Northern Ireland.

We must build on this potential. As every £1 invested by the Arts generates a return of over £3.60 to the local economy we must better nurture business entrepreneurship within our arts community so to develop a sustainable indigenous creative industry in Northern Ireland, which is boosted by and not dependent on, international investment.

Northern Ireland’s public libraries play an important role in our local communities by enhancing learning and ensuring access to information to everyone; improving literacy skills; acting as a social space; creating employment and helping to develop partnerships with statutory and community organisations.

The SDLP will continue to work with libraries to ensure that services are not destroyed in local communities, especially in rural areas.

Sports and Health
Tackling social isolation is a key priority for the SDLP and we recognise the potential of the arts to bring people of all ages together.

The SDLP recognises the unique role that sport in general plays within communities in the context of health promotion, tackling social exclusion, crime and under-achievement. The SDLP will continue to work with sports clubs and venues to tackle obesity levels through sport. We will continue to support sustained investment in grassroots sports including football, GAA and rugby.

The SDLP believes that the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland and the NI Museum Council should work in a much closer capacity. We believe that their co-operation would mean that they have more power to compete on a global scale.

The SDLP calls for Northern Ireland to have further powers over broadcasting devolved to the Assembly to ensure that our unique cultural, social and creative landscape is given the best possible platform and exposure.

To do this, the SDLP proposes the establishment of an Independent Advisory Panel to explore the potential for devolution as well as addressing and dealing with broadcasting policy issues.

Philanthropy Alliance for the Arts
The SDLP wants to create a collective Alliance in Philanthropy in Northern Ireland. We recognise the generosity of people in Northern Ireland, and we want to create a strategic giving culture through a joined up approach with local donors.

To do this we propose developing a co-ordinated strategy to enhance philanthropy in Northern Ireland including peer and professional support networks for philanthropists and advisory services.

Alliance Party

Party HQ:

(from Alliance Manifesto 2017, p64-65)

The government has a role in promoting culture and the arts. This allows us to develop creativity amongst our society. There is also a wide body of evidence that investment in arts and leisure has significant benefits for individual wellbeing and for our economy.

Alliance supports investment in arts and leisure at all levels. In order to make sure this investment is sustainable under current funding pressures, we will:

  • Commit to raising arts spending to at least the average spend on arts in these islands per capita, and review how to ensure that this spending effective.
  • Establish an Arts Funding Review to examine if this funding can directed in a more sustainable manner. Specifically, we would ask it to examine the historic underfunding of the arts compared to other nations in these islands. We would also ask the review to examine more sustainable funding arrangements such as; three-year budgeting, endowments and improving business models within arts and cultural organisations in key areas such as financial management, fundraising, marketing and audience development.
  • Adopt a specific strategy to improve access to the arts by sections of the community who have lower-than-average uptake rates.
  • Develop a formal protocol to ensure that sectarianism, racism or any other form of prejudice does not occur at artistic and cultural events funded by public money.
  • Establish an integrated strategy for cultural tourism. This strategy must provide a full appreciation of the unique cultural heritage we have to offer, and how these can be developed, managed and projected to a wider audience.
  • Ensure that Northern Ireland’s art and culture is promoted globally. Countries such as the Republic of Ireland and Scotland have successfully used increased global visibility of their arts and cultural output as part of a wider package to raise their international profile.

Culture, Arts & Leisure Policy:

Culture, Arts and Leisure

The Alliance Party appreciates the importance of culture, arts, sport and leisure to a healthy and vibrant civil society. There are also considerable economic and social benefits to society as a whole.

Alliance is also particularly aware of the ability of culture, the arts and language to make a positive contribution to a shared future. Alliance supports the appreciation and expression of our rich and varied cultural identities. We believe that cultural participation and self-expression should be developed in the context of respect and understanding of our own and each other’s heritage.

Shared space need not be neutral space; it is not about pursuing some sense of sanitised territory that denies the ability of people to celebrate their culture. Alliance will create a vibrant culture in Northern Ireland by:

  • Providing adequate and long-term funding for the arts, including better use of lottery funding.
  • Promote Northern Ireland’s culture abroad to help develop our tourism industry.
  • Introduce a comprehensive language strategy which will support both languages in Northern Ireland, as well as other commonly used languages and sign language too.
  • Create a coherent museums policy to support Northern Ireland’s museums.
  • Investing in sports and sports infrastructure to promote a more active society and to use sport to build a shared future. This includes supporting a shared stadium for GAA, football and rugby.


No mention of the arts were found on their listing of policies at

The Green Party

Party HQ:

Manifesto PDF:

(from The Green Party Manifesto for the Northern Ireland Assembly Election 2017, p14)

Just like in 2016, theatres and other arts organisations are still struggling under the funding cuts, which still undermine jobs and arts programming. There need to be better connections between investment in the arts and the contribution that it makes to the economy through job creation and leisure. Communities thrive on their historic cultural links. These should not be eroded by a focus on profiteering and vanity projects.

The Green Party will:

  • Develop ‘art contract clauses’ similar to ‘community benefit clauses’ for multi-million pound film and screen projects in Northern Ireland, to ensure that money finds its way to the grassroots arts scene
  • Support core investment in the arts at both local and Executive-level in order to further realise the value and potential of the arts in Northern Ireland
  • Bring forward an Irish Language Act

People Before Profit

(under ‘Policy on young people’ from PBP Manifesto Assembly Elections 2017, p25)

Why aren’t we nurturing the abundant artistic talents of young people in every estate in every town and city? There should be resident artists in every community centre and youth facility. As in the case of sports, it would cost less in the long term than seeing culture and art as irrelevant to the youth of working class areas. Given the chance, our young people through arts will challenge the consensus of the local establishment and produce beauty to enhance all our futures. Cuts to the arts sector has had a negative effect on vulnerable young people whose access to arts services has been slashed.

Arts Policy:

Policy for the Arts Summary

  • Increase state funding of the Arts to the European average of 0.6%
  • A new deal programme for artists to deliver new jobs in the public sector.
  • A new fund to promote access to arts participation for children and adults in disadvantaged areas.

People Before Profit’s Policy for the Arts

People Before Profit believes in absolute artistic freedom and we encourage the critique of art.

Artistic practice benefits the whole of society and should be available to the whole of society regardless of income, location or social background.

There should not be a division between excellence and access in the Arts.

All children should have a greater access to culture\art as a right, both in the education sector and outside of it.

People Before Profit recognises that Art is especially influential for children and can act as a catalyst for critical thinking. Self-expression and exploration can have a very positive effect on children and teenagers and should be encouraged in education and outside of it.

People Before Profit recognises that the arts and creative practices can be beneficial for people with mental health problems, and believes that our proposals would help in the effort to reduce mental health issues in addition to our Health Care policy.

Policy Proposals

  • People Before Profit supports, at a minimum, the National Campaign for the Arts demand to Increase state funding of the Arts to the European average of 0.6% of GDP1 .
  • People Before Profit supports the demands made by the National Campaign For the Arts in their Budget 2016 Submission such as expanding the role of the arts in schools and on the need for local authorities to provide an Arts plan.
  • A ‘New Deal’ jobs programme for artists delivering many jobs in the public sector. Such a programme would provide decent pay and job security for artists, while also providing high quality arts in sectors such as care homes, prisons, schools and hospitals. It would be spread out across the arts, including visual arts, writing, music, dance and theatre. It may include performances and exhibitions in public spaces as well as arts participation programmes in prisons, schools, care homes and hospitals. This ‘New Deal’ programme will encourage artists to contribute their skills and creativity to society whilst earning a living wage. It will be of enormous benefit to patients, the elderly, children, inmates and staff and will contribute to a higher quality of life for everyone in these sectors.
  • A new fund especially targeted to promoting access to arts participation in disadvantaged areas for adults and children. Part of this fund should be used to increase access to arts participation for adults and children with disabilities.
  • Open up existing facilities such as schools and colleges for after-school artistic activities for children and teenagers. Open up NAMA buildings for use by local arts organisations.
  • Remove the requirement of ‘availability for work’ for artists on Jobseeker’s Allowance to allow artists to do unpaid work without pressure from the Department of Social Protection.

NI Conservatives

Party HQ:

Social development, culture, arts and leisure

The Northern Ireland Conservatives understand that sport and culture play a vital role in a happy society. We want to see a multitude of cultures in this part of the United Kingdom encouraged and enjoyed in an atmosphere of tolerance, generosity and respect.

The Party intends to:

  • Increase PE in primary schools.
  • Devise a sporting anthem for Northern Ireland, to complement the National Anthem.

Under a period of austerity funds must be prioritised for health and education, but we would not support a strategy which abandons the modern artists in Northern Ireland.

UK Independence Party

Party HQ:

(from UKIP Election Manifesto 2015, p9 and p51)

Cutting the Cost of Westminster

Abolishing government departments when their essential powers and functions can be merged into other departments. Such departments will include the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the Department for International Development, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

The Great British Seaside

We will boost the Coastal Communities Fund and expand its remit to encourage regenerative arts projects into our coastal towns.

Traditional Unionist Voice

Party Leader:

(from TUV Manifesto 2016, p25)


TUV recognises the important contribution which libraries make to communities. We want to see well-resourced library provision. It is important that everyone – particularly children and the elderly – have access to the print and electronic resources which libraries offer. It is important that local libraries are protected from closure.

Cross Community Labour Alternative

Party HQ:

There are no mentions of Arts and Culture in their manifesto.

Workers Party Northern Ireland


The manifesto notes a reduction in funding for the arts and makes the following statement in response:

The Workers Party calls for the urgent creation of an Economic Forum to address these issues and centrally plan a development strategy.

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