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Belfast council reveals hundreds of thousands spent on Feile festival that ended with IRA chanting at concert

A tricolour with IRA written on it was displayed during a Wolfe Tones concert at the West Belfast Festival last week
A tricolour with IRA written on it was displayed during a Wolfe Tones concert at the West Belfast Festival last week
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Belfast City Council has confirmed it pumped £357,000 of public money into this year's Feile an Phobail.

The funding may now be reviewed after footage emerged of pro-IRA chants at Sunday night's Wolfe Tones concert at Falls Park.

The council is one of the principal funders of the West Belfast Festival alongside the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland.

Chants including "Up the Ra" were sung by many in the 10,000-strong crowd on the same day families gathered in Omagh to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the bombing which claimed 31 lives.

Tricolours daubed with IRA slogans were also waved.

Belfast City Council said it will be discussing the issues surrounding the concert with festival organisers.

The council said: "The Feile festival programme 2018 incorporates more than 350 events and the funding followed the usual approval process of going through the relevant committee and subsequently council.

"As with any festival programme, we will be reviewing compliance with the funding arrangements and will be engaging directly with the organisers on this matter."

Tourism NI contributed £65,000 towards this year's festival "to assist in attracting international visitors to Northern Ireland", but stressed that the funding does not cover large-scale commercial music events such as the one in Falls Park.

The tourist body said it would also be seeking a meeting with festival organisers.

The Arts Council confirmed it had awarded a total of £116,599 for 2018/19.

This funding goes towards supporting two separate festivals, the August Feile and the spring festival, Feile an Earraigh, next March.

The split is £79,822 of Exchequer funding and an additional £36,777 from the National Lottery.

Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey is among those calling for the festival's funding to be reviewed.

"Unfortunately, this year's festival will be remembered for all the wrong reasons," he said.

"I have had Catholics in west Belfast contacting me to say how appalled they are by what has happened.

"The organisers will be putting another funding application in for next year but we will have to bear the recent events in mind.

"One thing that we do when providing small grants of around £1,000 to bonfires is agree retrospective funding not to burn tyres or flags.

"If any of those conditions are broken then we will say 'sorry come back next year'.

"That may be an option to ensure that the festival meets all the criteria that organisers said it would meet," Mr McGimpsey added.

Former Belfast Lord Mayor and Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister said her party had opposed part of the council funding.

"The result has been an event which clearly failed to be inclusive in its nature," she said.

"While the majority of Feile events did create a festival open to all, holding a Wolfe Tones concert to bring proceedings to a close was clearly not in that same spirit.

"Last year, almost a quarter of council spending on festivals was allocated on one-off processes.

"While there may occasionally be the need for emergency funding, this kind of proportion is ridiculous," she added.

Belfast Telegraph


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