Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

'Irish Rebel night' at Ardoyne Fleadh just an excuse for brazen bigotry

The group performing on stage at the Ardoyne Fleadh on Sunday night
The group performing on stage at the Ardoyne Fleadh on Sunday night

Sunday night in Ardoyne was "Irish rebel night". It was the last night of the Ardoyne Fleadh and, as usual, it was given over to an open-air concert of "Irish rebel music".

The concert generally attracts some controversy, but this year it has certainly hit the headlines after a racist outburst from the lead singer of one of the bands.

The Druids, from Kildare, claim to be "Ireland's number one live rebel band" and their lead singer, Mick O'Brien, told the Ardoyne crowd that it's about time the British Army and their "Orange comrades" all "f***** off back to England".

His statement was racist and so was the reaction of the crowd, who cheered him and roared out their approval of what he had said.

After that, the group sang a song which begins with the lines, "Go on home, British soldiers, go on home, have you got no f****** homes of your own." It also includes such memorable lines as, "So f*** your Union Jack, we want our country back".

If you are not familiar with 'Irish rebel music', or The Druids, one of the other songs in their repertoire is The Sniper's Promise, a song about an IRA man picking up his Armalite rifle and shooting a British soldier.

The line-up at the Ardoyne Fleadh this year also included the Fianna Irish Rebel Band from Glasgow.

On their Facebook page, they explain that the first song co-written by the band, New Lodge Pride, was about the Provisional IRA in the New Lodge.

Of course, we need to remember that such 'Irish rebel nights' are not unique to Ardoyne. These bands perform week after week in venues across Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. They also perform at events organised by Sinn Fein.

Audience participation is an important part of Irish rebel nights and the crowds are encouraged to sing along with the bands.

That participation often includes shouts of "Ooh, aah Up the 'RA" and "Tiocfaidh ar la".

Indeed, one of the organisers described the Ardoyne rebel night as a "Tiocfaidh night".

Northern Ireland has moved on a long way, but there is still some way to go and some people and some festivals have a very long way to go.

One of the organisers of the fleadh was quoted as saying, "the people get what the people want". That is a sad reflection on "the people".

The chairman of the fleadh, prominent republican Eddie Copeland, responded to criticism by saying: "They are looking at one wee part of a five-day event."

Yes, it is only one part of the fleadh, but it is the climax of the fleadh and for many people it is the most important part of the fleadh.

On the same night and just yards away from the concert, a young man was shot by a dissident republican gunman.

Sinn Fein MLA and culture minister, Caral Ni Chuilin, condemned the shooting and noted that people were at a concert enjoying "their culture".

Does she not realise that the culture of rebel nights helps to create a climate in which it is easier for dissident gunmen to operate?

If you glorify the gunmen of the very recent past, you help to validate the gunmen of the present.

So there is a question for the fleadh committee and for nationalist and republican politicians: is it not time for the fleadh to move on?

There are also questions for the funders, such as Dcal and the Community Relations Council. Will you continue to fund events in the fleadh if the programme includes a rebel night?

Finally, the rebel night takes place on the Holy Cross Boys' school pitch and, so, there is a question for the school governors: will you continue to make your school property available for such rebel nights?

Those are important questions – and they deserve an answer.

Nelson McCausland MLA is Minister for Social Development

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