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Culture minister defends attending festival despite boycott by Irish artists

Ireland’s culture minister has defended attending an arts festival in the US that has been boycotted by some Irish artists over Gaza.

Catherine Martin said she would use her trip to South by Southwest (SXSW) to coincide with St Patrick’s Day to “make clear her revulsion at the devastation that has been unleashed on Gaza”.

Artists including Soda Blonde, Mick Flannery and Belfast group Kneecap have withdrawn from the festival over opposition to the US Army being a sponsor, citing US support for Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

An Enterprise Ireland-led delegation is taking part in the arts festival which is running this week in Austin, Texas.

In a statement, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media said the minister would be representing Ireland “at a number of events” in Austin as part of the St Patrick’s Day programme, some of which are part of SXSW.

“The Minister spoke this morning to many of the musicians who have withdrawn from the SXSW Festival,” a statement said.

“She outlined that she has the utmost respect for their freedom of expression as artists and reassured them that she will use every opportunity available to her to make clear her revulsion at the devastation that has been unleashed on Gaza.

“This includes the St Patrick’s Day consular reception in Austin tonight where she will outline to attendees the Irish Government’s calls for an immediate ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and a massive and sustained increase in humanitarian aid, food and medicine to the people of Gaza.”

The statement from the department added that the events aim to promote Ireland’s creative industries and film industry, and are supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Screen Ireland, IDA, Tourism Ireland and Music from Ireland.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement to PA: “South by Southwest is a combination of festivals and events that includes film, interactive media, music and conferences on a range of subjects, and takes place in March each year in Austin, Texas.

“In 2023, over 345,000 people from 127 countries attended.

“Ireland House at SXSW – running from 11-15 March – is providing an opportunity for a wide range of Irish companies, agencies and artists to showcase the best of Irish creativity in the fields of science, innovation, technology, culture and the arts.

“The department is aware that a number of artists due to participate in Music From Ireland at SXSW have withdrawn from the event. The department supports artists’ rights to freedom of expression and does not advise artists in relation to choices they make on where to perform.

“In relation to the war in Gaza, Ireland has strongly argued for an upholding of international humanitarian law, a humanitarian ceasefire and sustained humanitarian assistance.”