Belfast Telegraph

Anger over singing of sectarian song on Tyrone GAA team bus

An image from footage taken on the Tyrone GAA team bus
An image from footage taken on the Tyrone GAA team bus
The band playing in Aughnacloy
The Tyrone GAA team bus
Quincey Dougan
Mickey Harte

By Gillian Halliday

Arlene Foster has said a person who shouted a "deeply sectarian and offensive" remarks as a band parade passed the Tyrone GAA team bus must "be held responsible" for their actions.

The DUP leader last night also branded some Tyrone players who sang the rebel song, Come Out Ye Black and Tans during the video, as being "deliberately offensive", after the incident appeared online.

The incident happened in Main Street, Aughnacloy, as the team were returning from a game in Clones, Co Monaghan last Saturday evening.

A parade, organised by Lisgenny Flute Band, was passing by. It's an annual event and is held after 8.30pm in order to prevent disruption to parishioners attending Mass.

Two accordion bands - Loughans and Mulnahunch - made up of mainly young people from a community near Ballygawley, each had around 20-30 band members at the weekend parade.

During the footage an individual can be heard making reference to a "pile of f****** huns" as accordion band members - mainly teenage girls - pass the stopped bus.

Mrs Foster branded it a "deeply sectarian and offensive remark".

"I know many of the parents. I know many of the children in the band. They were simply performing in parade for their neighbours and to raise money for another local band," she said.

"The Tyrone GAA team have held homecomings in Aughnacloy many times. I would be the first to condemn anyone who made similarly offensive and sectarian comments at such an event."

The former First Minister, however, welcomed an apology from Tyrone GAA manager, Mickey Harte.

In a statement the manager said sorry to "anyone who has been offended by the unacceptable behaviour of some of the panel on Saturday evening".

"The matter is being dealt with in-house and we won't be making any further comment," he told the BBC.

Mrs Foster hailed it as a welcome and sincere first step, but stressed "sectarianism has no place in this society".

"It must be rooted out and that includes from within sections of the GAA," she added.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA also referred to her visit as the first DUP leader to attend the Ulster Championship GAA final last June, which was criticised in some quarters due to the organisation's historic links to republicanism.

She called for the organisation to "shake off its baggage" of its past.

The band playing in Aughnacloy
The band playing in Aughnacloy

"I still speak with Ulster GAA and will continue to work to build a shared society where people who are Irish, British or Northern Irish can feel at home," continued Mrs Foster.

"This sectarian outburst by some in such a senior team in the GAA will be a key test of the organisation. This is a time for leadership when many unionists are looking at the Tyrone County Board for their response."

She also warned the incident could harm its reputation - leading to financial repercussions.

"The GAA is in receipt of funding from public money as well as sponsors. Many are waiting to see the response of the sponsors to this offensive outburst," she added.

"Having spoken with families whose children were on parade, I know they want to see action taken and want to see everyone move on."

Her comments were echoed by leading Orange activist, Quincey Dougan, who insisted the video highlights a need for "greater respect" to be displayed towards the parading tradition here.

"The incident emphasises the need for greater respect and education on the Ulster marching band cultural movement," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Dougan, a columnist for the Orange Standard newspaper, said he feared the incident would not be the last.

"Unfortunately there are those who will seek to justify the behaviour and until we can approach incidents like this with sincerity and honesty, they are doomed to be repeated," he said.

Last night Lisgenny Flute Band declined to comment on the video.

Mr Dougan said the incident had thrust the parade organisers into an unwanted spotlight.

"Lisgenny are a dedicated, small country band... They aren't interested in politics. Politics are not the reason for their existence, and they'll leave the politics to the politicians," explained Mr Dougan.

One band member who participated in the parade said they felt "disappointment rather than anger" when they heard the news yesterday.

The member, who did not want to be identified, said they hoped it would not affect the "good and long-standing community relations" in the area.

Meanwhile, GAA star and former Armagh All-Ireland winner Oisin McConville attributed the incident to "high spirits" following Tyrone's victory over Cavan. "One aspect of an incident such as this is that it can get blown out of proportion," said Mr McConville.

"To be honest, sometimes young lads don't even know what they're singing about.

"I'm not making any excuses for singing songs that might have connotations for certain sections of the community because it's not meant in the manner that some people might perceive it to be."

He added: "I think what occurred had more to do with high spirits after a great win rather than giving offence to anyone.

"In society nowadays people can make it their business to take offence at stuff.

"The whole social media thing means that people cannot do anything any more. Everything is videoed nowadays and this sort of thing has reared its head in other situations. This is just another example of it."

The Belfast Telegraph asked Tyrone and Ulster GAA if Mr Harte had been on board the bus at the time of the incident.

No response was received.

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