Belfast Telegraph

Loyalists to join Sinn Fein event

Loyalist bandsmen are to take part in the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis for the first time.

The Loyalist Londonderry Bands Forum is to make a presentation during a fringe event at the annual conference in the city this weekend.

Derek Moore, forum co-ordinator, said: "We are taking the opportunity to speak for ourselves and to raise issues that are important to bands.

"We are not sure whether or not anybody will turn up to hear us."

The two-day Ard Fheis is being held in the Millennium Forum.

It is only the second time Sinn Fein's annual conference has been held in Northern Ireland. In 2011, the Rev David Latimer, a former army chaplain from Londonderry who served in Afghanistan, was guest speaker when it was held in Belfast's Waterfront Hall.

The bandsmen are expected to highlight the educational underachievement among young working-class protestant men.

The decision to participate in the Ard Fheis was taken after two months of deliberation and separate meetings with Education Minister John O'Dowd as well as Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

Mr Moore added: "We are speaking at one of the eight fringe events so we are not addressing the main conference. It is not the parting of the Red Sea.

"We will be speaking about the educational under-achievements of young protestants. Only 20% of them are leaving school with enough qualifications to get an interview. It is a big issue."

Speaking during Question Time at the Assembly, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness welcomed the forthcoming loyalist contribution.

He told MLAs: "I warmly welcome the fact that the Loyalist Londonderry Bands Forum will this weekend make a presentation to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in the city.

"I think that leadership has been shown in the city of Derry is something that could be followed everywhere."

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