LIAM NEESON has issued an impassioned plea to Northern Ireland’s political leaders, urging them to do their bit to help save the country's ailing arts sector.
Drawing on his own experiences as a budding actor and “proud Northern Irishman” the Taken actor called on politicians to make good on the promise of £33m of funding announced in July.
A patron of The Lyric Theatre in Belfast, Neeson warned that as many as 8,000 jobs could be lost unless action is taken to free-up the funding.
Plans to provide financial support to theatres and other venues affected by the coronavirus pandemic was first announced back in July.
However, the money has yet to be allocated to those in need.
“I came up through the ranks, as it were, of the arts scene in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, beginning in 1976 to be exact at the Lyric theatre in Ridgeway Street in Belfast,” the Ballymena actor said.
“I experienced first-hand, as many of you may have, the potential of physical danger as I practised and learned my craft in that theatre - which, by the way, never closed its doors once during the height of the Troubles.
“Now that says something about the character and stamina, not just of the Lyric theatre, but of us as a people - all the people, Protestant and Catholic, of the north.”
The Co Antrim actor told the Northern Ireland executive it is “vital” that the money promised is delivered soon.
“I have recently learned that £33 million has been earmarked for the arts in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“I cannot stress enough how essential that money is - every penny - in securing the well-being of our artistic community and sustaining the lives of nearly 8000 people in every branch of the arts in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“It is vital, it’s a lifeline.
“It is vital for our economy, it is vital for our young people who are pursuing a career in our creative industries.
“You know, a true society cannot be whole or fundamentally exist without the arts or the people employed in the arts.
Speaking in a video recorded for the Lyric theatre, Neeson continued: “Culture is our society’s compass, our north star. If we lose our compass we all lose our way.
“My appeal to you today requires your urgent attention.
“The character of our very existence here in the province is at stake.”