Belfast Telegraph

Decision not to prosecute Druids band 'damaged confidence in police'

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Confidence in the rule of law has been damaged by a decision not to prosecute a "rebel" band over alleged sectarian comments, the Assembly has been told.

The Druids were widely criticised after their lead singer was filmed telling British soldiers and their "Orange comrades" to get out of Ireland.

The remarks, which were interspersed with expletives, were made during a performance at the Ardoyne Fleadh in north Belfast last month.

Both unionist and nationalist politicians criticised the address to a crowd of about 5,000 at the partly publicly-funded event.

The band had claimed the comments were taken out of context.

During a debate on the issue at Stormont, William Humphrey, DUP MLA for north Belfast, revealed that unionists had convened a meeting with PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton to discuss the matter today.

He said: "Confidence in the police and Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has been undermined by this debacle. On the ground, that is the reality."

Police had indicated that no action was to be taken against the Kildare-based band after the PPS advised that no crime had been committed.

But, after a unionist outcry, Mr Hamilton told a meeting of the Policing Board last week he would formally pass a file to the PPS to reassure the public about the decision-making process.

North Antrim MLA Jim Allister told the Assembly it appeared there had been an "urgency to sweep the matter under the carpet".

A motion calling for public funding to be withdrawn from the long-running festival was defeated.

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said it would have been "disproportionate" to withhold money because the Fleadh organisers had immediately disassociated themselves from the remarks.

"It is disproportionate and it cannot happen," he said.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly also argued against collective punishment. He said: "I think we need to be careful that we do not get too high on the horse in all this. The Druids do not speak for anybody but themselves."

Mr Kelly branded the remarks made against the Orangemen as "offensive and wrong" but said he had spent a "lifetime" trying to get British soldiers out of Ireland.

There was furious reaction to the footage taken of the performance by the Kildare band.

It showed one member of the band saying: "As we stand here tonight in Ardoyne we're well aware that here in the occupied six counties of Ireland there are still over five thousand British soldiers parading around the streets of Ireland as if they owned it.

"It's about time that they took down their little Union Jacks, it's about time that they got all their Orange comrades together, it's about time that they loaded up the bus and it's about time that they all f****d off back to England where they came from."

This was met with cheers from many in the audience who turned out to watch The Druids perform songs such as Go On Home British Soldiers, Free Gaza, The Sky Over Ireland and The Fields of Athenry.

Organisers of the event have now said "it was wrong, regrettable, disappointing and should not have happened".

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