Loyalist bandsmen are set to address Sinn Fein meeting
Loyalists are set to make a major departure from their traditional route when they take part in the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis for the first time this weekend.
The Londonderry Bands Forum (LBF) will break new ground in community relations when it takes part in a fringe event at the party conference.
Forum co-ordinator Derek Moore said accepting the invite was a natural progression for the group's ethos of dispelling misconceptions about Protestant marching bands.
The Forum's presentation is expected to draw much attention at the lunchtime event on Saturday in Derry's Millennium Forum, although Mr Moore said: "We are not sure whether or not anybody will turn up to hear us."
While this will not be the first time the organisation has addressed an audience from the nationalist community, it is the first time it has stepped into the republican political arena.
He said that despite the bands' efforts at outreach, most people still associate them with the Orange Order or Apprentice Boys and nothing else. Mr Moore explained why they accepted the invite from Sinn Fein.
"Given the positive example that Londonderry displays throughout Northern Ireland, the LBF think that the time is right to provide a new non-political opinion to different audiences on the issues that are of real concern to them.
"It was felt that a lack of knowledge and understanding in the country as a whole has contributed to a lot of the issues we face today.
"People can have very definite ideas about Protestant bands which are far removed from the reality. There is more to any band than what is shown on television a few days of the year and we have taken that message out to people who would not have known this. At the weekend we hope that message with reach many others."
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness welcomed the move.
"I warmly welcome the fact that the Londonderry Bands Forum will this weekend make a presentation to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in the city," he said. "I think the leadership that has been shown in the city of Derry is something that could be followed everywhere."
Mr Moore and two colleagues - Kenny McFarland and Brian Dougherty - will talk to those at the fringe event about the educational under-achievement of young Protestant men.
"Only 20% of them are leaving school with enough qualifications to get an interview. It is a big issue," he said.
They also want to dispel stereotypical perceptions of loyalist bands and build relationships across the sectarian divide.
In recent years, Derry has led the way on parades issues. Events once marred by violence are now marked by a carnival atmosphere and few arrests.
Derek Moore has been a bandsman for 45 years and a member of the William King Memorial Flute Band since its formation in 1972. He has regularly spoken in Catholic schools in Derry about life as a member of a loyalist band. He also accompanied loyalist bands when they took part in the City of Culture celebrations in 2013 and at the All Ireland Fleadh celebrations in Derry in 2013.