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Loyalist bandsmen succeed in appeal over 'bigoted' tune

By Alan Erwin

Published 02/12/2015

Members of the Young Conway Volunteers play the Famine Song outside St Patrick’s Church
Members of the Young Conway Volunteers play the Famine Song outside St Patrick’s Church

Thirteen members of a loyalist flute band have successfully appealed against convictions for provocatively playing a sectarian tune outside a Catholic Church in north Belfast.

Prosecutors did not oppose their challenge to the guilty verdicts - but only because they consented to being bound over to keep the peace for two years.

Charges had been brought against the members of the Young Conway Volunteers due to their actions during a Twelfth of July parade in 2012.

It was previously claimed they took part in a rendition of the Famine Song while marching in a circle at St Patrick's Chapel on Donegall Street. The band members were accused of a provocative act likely to cause public disorder or a breach of the peace.

They denied playing the controversial tune, declared racist by senior judges in Scotland, which includes the line "The famine's over, why don't you go home?".

Instead, they claimed to have been performing the Beach Boys tune Sloop John B.

Played to the same music, that song has the lyrics "I feel so broke up, I wanna go home".

The episode outside the church marked the first in a series of flashpoint incidents at the location.

Among the defendants were: Aaron McCrory (29), of Argyle Court; Alan Adlam (42), from Dewey Street; Christopher McKay (24), of Wallasey Park; Bryan Green (27), from Canmore Court; Stephen Smyth (22), of Tennent Street; William Carlisle (30), from Ainsworth Avenue; Jonathan Airdrie (25), from Columbia Street; Paul Shaw (35), of Geoffrey Street; Thomas Gibney (36), from Lawnbrook Avenue - all in Belfast - and Ryan Aitcheson (28), Ravelston Avenue, Newtownabbey.

Charges were also brought against three youths at the time of the incident.

During the original contested hearing at Belfast Magistrates Court, defence lawyers played songs by a Swedish folk singer, a Star Trek enthusiast and football fan chants - all to the same tune - in a bid to have their clients cleared. Paul Shaw, band leader on the day of the parade, was the only one of the accused to give evidence.

He said they had been forced to stop outside the church due to a break in the parade and began the Beach Boys tune to ward off lethargy among members tired from the previous night's celebrations.

In April, the 13 defendants were all convicted, with three given five-month suspended prison sentences. Fines of £300 were imposed on all but two of the youngest, while binding over orders were also handed down as part of the sentencing process.

The outcome was reached after each of the defendants agreed to being bound over in the sum of £50 to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for two years.

Any default could see them jailed for up to seven days.

Solicitor John Greer, who represented 12 of the defendants, said: "No offence was ever intended to the residents and parishioners of the church.

"Common sense has prevailed and my clients want to put the matter behind them."

Belfast Telegraph

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