Belfast Telegraph

UVF terror flag displayed in Northern Ireland town hall during band competition

By Suzanne Breen

A UVF flag was displayed in a Northern Ireland town hall during a loyalist band contest last weekend.

The flag was displayed at Carrickfergus Town Hall by a colour party for controversial Scottish band Greengairs Thistle which takes part every year in a parade on the Shankill Road to commemorate UVF killer Brian Robinson.

A video viewed more than 9,000 times on the Facebook page of the Shankill Road Defenders flute band shows the flag being held by a bearer in Greengairs Thistle's colour party for over half an hour as the band plays.

The town hall event was organised by the Shankill Road Defenders which also takes part in the annual Brian Robinson commemoration parade.

Robinson was killed by the SAS in 1989 after he shot dead Catholic man Paddy McKenna in a random sectarian attack as he walked along the Crumlin Road.

A wedding was moved from the town hall to accommodate the loyalist band contest.

Local Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson last night said it was "deeply disturbing" that a paramilitary flag was on display in premises meant to be a shared space.

He called on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to explain their vetting process for groups seeking to use their facilities.

A council spokeswoman said it would be "reviewing the footage provided by the Belfast Telegraph".

Ten bands took part in the competition in the packed town hall.

A website for Glengairs Thistle says the band is excluded from taking part in Orange Order parades.

It states that in 1987, it was summoned before the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland which objected to its uniform then "as the uniform had links with paramilitary organisations".

It continues: "The band were expelled for life and members of the band who were also members of the Orange Order were expelled from the order for life. The band were also expelled from all Orange social clubs".

The website notes the band's history of "working with the Loyalist Prisoners Welfare Association in Belfast" which "was set up to aid the men and women of the Ulster Volunteer Force who became incarcerated ... while fighting for their political beliefs".

Mr Dickson hit out at the displaying of the UVF flag at the council premises. The East Antrim MLA said: "Carrickfergus Town Hall is a facility for everyone and it's absolutely unacceptable to see flags in support of an illegal paramilitary organisation being flown openly.

"This should never have been allowed and I would challenge Mid and East Antrim Council to outline exactly what their vetting process is for groups seeking to use local facilities. 

"And again, to those facilitating the event at the time, why were no interventions made?" 

Mr Dickson expressed concern that a band "allegedly banned by the Orange Order in Scotland and not allowed to take part in any official events" was allowed "to turn Carrickfergus Town Hall into their own arena".

He added: "Flags and emblems like this are used to intimidate others.

"It is not the kind of environment the majority want to see facilitated in Carrickfergus - especially within our civic centre which should remain a shared space."

The Mid and East Antrim Borough Council spokeswoman said: "This booking is an annual melody concert run by the Shankill Road Defenders flute band who host a number of visiting bands.

"Council is reviewing this footage provided by the Belfast Telegraph."

In response to the moving of a wedding to Carrickfergus Castle to accommodate the band contest, the spokeswoman said: "There was a clash of bookings with a wedding party booked for the same venue on the same date.

"Council offered the couple the choice to relocate the ceremony to an alternative approved venue in close proximity to the town hall, which as a gesture of goodwill, council covered a small cost for the relocation."

Shankill Road Defenders had enlisted the help of former X Factor contestant Wagner to promote the band competition last week.

In a video Wagner, who had no knowledge that the UVF flag would be displayed, said people could look forward to "an evening of culture".

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