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Loyalist flute band Young Conway Volunteers have 'sectarian song' convictions quashed

By Alan Erwin

Published 01/12/2015

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
Police officers attempt to stop fighting between loyalist and nationalist groups outside outside St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Belfast 2012 (AP)
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Royal Black Preceptory parade through Belfast City Centre. The annual parade, which was being held in the centre of Belfast for the first time, had restrictions placed upon it by the Parades Commission. No music was allowed to be played when passing St Patricks Church on Donegall street. Trouble flares during the parade at St Patrick's Church when nationalist residents clashed with loyalist supporters.
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Nationalist residents holding a protest opposite St Patrick's Church
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
A loyalist band marches past St Patrick's Church.
Shankill YCV flute band walks past St Patrick's Church
Trouble flares during the parade at St Patrick's Church
Royal Black Preceptory parade through Belfast City Centre
A police officer is injured as loyalists and nationalists clash outside St.Patricks Church Donegall Street
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Winston Irvine outside St.Patricks Church Donegall Street
Trouble flares during the parade at St Patrick's Church
Children pictured in the Shankill estate before the parade forms up
A police man announces the Parades Commission's restrictions as the parade goes past St Patrick's Church

Thirteen members of a loyalist flute band have successfully appealed 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 defendants, all members of the Young Conway Volunteers, due to their actions during a Twelfth of July parade back 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 doing 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 hit '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.

The 10 adult defendants were:

  • Aaron McCrory, 29, of Argyle Court, Belfast
     
  • Alan Adlam, 42, from Dewey Street, Belfast
     
  • Christopher McKay, 24, of Wallasey Park, Belfast
     
  • Bryan Green, 27, from Canmore Court, Belfast
     
  • Stephen Smyth, 22, of Tennent Street, Belfast
     
  • William Carlisle, 30, from Ainsworth Avenue, Belfast
     
  • Jonathan Airdrie, 25, from Columbia Street, Belfast
     
  • Paul Shaw, 35, of Geoffrey Street, Belfast
     
  • Thomas Gibney, 36, from Lawnbrook Avenue, Belfast
     
  • Ryan Aitcheson, 28, of Ravelston Avenue in Newtownabbey, County Antrim

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 started up 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 of them receiving five-month suspended prison sentences.

Fines of £300 were imposed on all but two of the youngest accused, while binding over orders were also handed down as part of the sentencing process.

A challenge to the convictions was due to be heard at Belfast County Court today.

But instead it was confirmed that the Public Prosecution Service would not be resisting the case. On that basis the appeals were allowed.

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.

Outside court Mr Shaw expressed his delight at the outcome.

He said: "Justice has been done - we fought this for three years and we wouldn't have if we didn't believe it was a just cause."

Solicitor John Greer, who represented 12 of the defendants, added: "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."

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