HC Deb 11 February 2004 vol 417 cc1402-3
5. Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab)

What discussions he has had with interested parties in Northern Ireland about the promotion of the arts. [153159]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela Smith)

I have had discussions about the promotion of the arts with a range of interested parties, including political representatives and those working in the statutory, community and voluntary sectors.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is the statutory body responsible for the promotion of the arts. Both my Department and the Arts Council engage on a regular basis with a wide range of stakeholders from the arts sector.

Jim Knight

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I know first hand from my work as a professional arts promoter the potential of the arts to heal, to educate and to strengthen communities. What use is my hon. Friend making of the arts in those capacities in Northern Ireland?

Angela Smith

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest in the issue. The arts do indeed have the capacity to bring communities together. The work that I have seen of, for example, the Lyric theatre and the Community Circus school in Belfast and the Nerve centre and the Verbal Arts centre in the city of Derry shows that they can promote a far greater understanding and acceptance of different cultures and traditions.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP)

We are all aware of the growing culture of mural art in Northern Ireland. This is to be found in both communities—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is asking a question.

Mr. Beggs

In fact, that mural art is a tourist attraction. Is the Minister aware of just how many properties in public ownership carry sectarian and political murals? Will she provide funding and harness the talent that exists in Northern Ireland to provide more attractive and more acceptable murals and give encouragement to that art?

Angela Smith

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Murals can be divisive or unifying. As he knows, the Ulster-Scots Agency has looked at bringing in new murals and over-painting those that are sectarian. I will give further consideration to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.