Concern that established festivals will lose funding

Councillors showed reservation over the new conditions for the countywide Festivals and Event Support Fund of €113,000 after full guidelines were revealed at Monday’s Athlone Municipal District meeting on Monday.

The initiative had previously been launched in December but guidelines were unclear. At Monday’s meeting councillors were told that the purpose of the scheme is to encourage and promote local events that might otherwise not take place and which are largely organised by local voluntary groups.

In a letter to councillors, district manager Pat Keating said that “The scheme is not intended to support festivals that are fundraising by nature or events that are self financing and well established”.

“I welcome the allocation, it’ll be a huge benefit to local economies and it’s very encouraging for people who have an idea for running an event in the county,” said Independent councillor Michael O’Brien.

However he aired concerns over funding for well established events in the county. “What about the agri shows in Athlone and Moate? They are well established and a revenue stream but council funding is also important sponsorship for them,” he said.

Sinn Fein councillor Paul Hogan also voiced concerns over future funding for well established festivals. “We’re being warned about working with ‘well-established’ festivals but what about the European Festival, that’s been running since the 1990s... it brings a lot of tourism into the town.”

He also asked who would decide on the funding allocation.

Independent councillor Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran also asked about the Athlone Pipe Festival and other well-established festivals saying he didn’t want to see small money going out to small events that wouldn’t bring people or money into the town.

In comparison Fianna Fáil’s Aengus O’Rourke felt the new fund was a lot less “haphazard” than before. “It’s now up to the festival and events organisers to put their case forward,” he added.

Fine Gael’s Tom Farrell added that this was “an Athlone of new”. “Let’s get started and see what happens,” he said.

Director of services Barry Kehoe said that there were strong festivals in the county that happen every year that don’t need county council support - these are festivals that will go ahead whether the county council supports them or not. “We expect that €130,000 will give significant support to events,” he said.

In response Cllr Moran said that everyone has a right to apply but “you need to draw numbers, this funding is nothing. It’s a start but it’s a start in the wrong direction”.

Mayor of Athlone, Frankie Keena, reminded councillors that the fund was not up for debate. “It’s a countywide budget, that’s the way it is.”

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