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Festival founder Tom Hartley slams Frankie Boyle gig

Pressure builds on Feile to axe stand-up who jokes about disabled kids

By Rebecca Black

Published 25/07/2015

Sinn Fein’s Tom Hartley at the protest against Frankie Boyle’s appearance
Sinn Fein’s Tom Hartley at the protest against Frankie Boyle’s appearance
Controversial comedian: Frankie Boyle
Niamh Rooney with a petition
Michelle Maginn, Rhys McDonald (8), his mum Maura McDonald and family members
Youngsters hold up posters at the Feile offices
Youngsters hold up posters at the Feile offices

One of the founding members of Feile an Phobail has urged organisers to scrap Frankie Boyle as a headline act.

Tom Hartley, a former Lord Mayor of Belfast and Sinn Fein councillor, is the first high-profile figure to come out publicly against the appearance of the controversial Scottish comedian, who has made jokes about disabled children.

As the controversy over the gig next month continues to grow, Mr Hartley, whose brother has Down's syndrome, joined a protest against the booking outside the offices of Feile on the Falls Road yesterday.

He held a poster calling for the performance to be cancelled.

Mr Hartley's involvement in the protest will massively increase the pressure on the organisers to scrap Boyle's performance.

The fact that such a senior Sinn Fein figure has now gone public with his opposition will be seen as having major significance. The festival was set up by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in 1988 and the party continues to have a major influence on it, with many members on the committee.

Thousands of people have backed a group of local parents of children with disabilities fiercely opposed to Boyle, due to crude jokes he made in the past about children with Down's syndrome.

Mr Hartley joined with a number of charities including the Stephen Hartley Down's Syndrome Support Group, Kids Together Belfast and members of the public in the Feile for All campaign against Boyle's appearance.

The issue is personal to Mr Hartley, whose brother Stephen gave his name to the Down's support group.

However, Feile is also very close to his heart as one of the original organisers, and also as someone who conducts walking tours of Milltown Cemetery as part of the programme.

But he stood alongside those disgusted by the booking of Boyle yesterday afternoon and told the Belfast Telegraph that he hopes Feile reconsiders.

"I do think, for me, it poses an ethical question for how Feile an Phobail sees itself," he said.

"Feile an Phobail emerged from a community with a view of itself. It is a difficult one (the booking of Boyle), there is a fine line between freedom of speech and the rights of those with disabilities and Down's syndrome.

"Would, for instance, you invite a comedian that was homophobic, a comedian that was racist? I don't think so. I think Feile will sort this out, they are people with an ethical view of the world."

Up to 100 people joined the protest at the Feile offices yesterday afternoon.

A member attempted to deliver a petition against Boyle to organisers but the door of the office was not opened to the protesters.

Meanwhile, Boyle posted a defiant message on Twitter yesterday: "I'm doing a gig in Belfast. It's going to be a f*****g belter too".

Many of those who are calling for Feile to reconsider hosting Boyle have emphasised that they are not opposed to the festival as a whole, and have in the past attended events.

But they are opposed to inviting Boyle due to his jokes about disabled children, and the fact he has not apologised for them.

The controversial comedian is due to appear on Friday, August 7, at Falls Park with tickets costing £25.

In 2010 Boyle faced criticism from the parents of a five-year-old girl with Down's after a sold-out gig in Reading.

During his performance, some jokes involved remarks about Down's syndrome children.

Protesters have vowed to demonstrate outside Feile offices again today and also on Monday.

Belfast Telegraph

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