Belfast Telegraph

Anger following IRA chanting and flags at publicly funded west Belfast festival

By Gareth Cross

There have been demands for answers after IRA flags were flown in the audience and pro-IRA chanting was heard at a publicly-funded community festival in west Belfast.

The incidents took place during a Wolfe Tones concert at the West Belfast Feile on Sunday.

The Feile was founded in 1988 "as a direct response to the conflict" in Northern Ireland.

The principal funders of the event are the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council and Tourism Northern Ireland.

UUP Belfast City Councillor Chris McGimpsey said the funding of the festival needed to be looked at.

"In Belfast over the years we have given the millions of pounds and I think we need to look very, very seriously at that," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.

"They have really crossed the line, it is absolutely outrageous. This is not art, this is support for terrorism and we need to look seriously at that.

"Our problem with Belfast City Council is in all of these contentious votes the Alliance, Sinn Fein and the SDLP generally vote together and the unionists are always outvoted and there is very little we can do.

"There needs to be a serious look at this. We can't let this go this time. Its gone too far."

Councillor McGimpsey acknowledged that the festival brings people of different backgrounds together and said that's what it should be about.

"The event like the Wolfe Tones undermines all the other work done in the festival," he said.

"A quarter of west Belfast is Protestant and I wonder how many people from the Shankill attend an event?

"They have a couple of events on the Shankill but other than that the whole dynamic of the festival is Catholic and republican.

"Sticking a couple of Prods on a panel is not sufficent."

He confirmed that the UUP were planning to write to each of the sponsors of the festival and ask for comments about the events.

SDLP Lisburn and Castlereagh Councillor Mairia Cahill criticised the decision of Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to open this year's Feile.

Speaking at the opening Mr Varadkar said "The Irish Government is proud to be one of your funders and supporters".

Ms Cahill said she was writing to the Office of the Taoiseach to find out how much funding was provided to the Feile and if there were any conditions.

PUP Belfast City Councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnston condemned the lack of leadership from the republican movement.

"Look, I’m not buttoned up the back, there are plenty of Loyalist songs that hold no punches, some of our bonfires, a legitimate expression of culture, regrettably don flags, emblems and election posters. We know the problem isn’t unique to republican and nationalist communities," she said.

"But here’s the thing. I’ve actively spent this summer, and many before, working hard on the ground, promoting and persuading my community toward positive change.

"At Feile to a crowd of 10,000, the lyrics “f*** your Union Jack We want our country back” - “And we will fight you for 800 more” were sang live. To which chants of “ooh ahh up the raa” echoed Falls Park.

"I’m angry. I’m disappointed. I’m disheartened. Reconciliation and respect - words without meaning."

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said that they would be discussing the issues with the organisers of the festival.

"We’re working with all of our funded cultural partners to achieve shared celebrations of culture in Belfast," the spokesperson said.

"Terms of our funding state that the grant must comply with statutory equality provisions. We will be engaging directly with the event organiser on this."

The Belfast Telegraph has contacted the west Belfast Feile for a response.

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