Checks could have been better ahead of ‘IRA terror fest’

Whiterock Leisure Centre in Belfast
Whiterock Leisure Centre in Belfast

Belfast City Council was not as thorough as it could have been when it allowed one of its buildings to be used for a community event, which turned out to include paramilitary displays.

That is the verdict of a report into a gathering in Whiterock Leisure Centre on March 29 where replica weapons, paramilitary flags and a Sinn Fein banner were among the items on show, leading the TUV’s Jim Allister to denounce it as an “IRA terror fest”.

Now an investigation by the council has found it was left in the dark about exactly what was going to happen when it approved the “community celebration”, but also that it was not as “robust and searching as it might have been” when vetting the application.

The PSNI had also been running its own inquiries, and the force said yesterday: “Police have completed an initial investigation into this matter. No further action is being taken at this time.”

The council’s report found the applicant, Cumann Spoirt an Phobail, had been joined by a number of different organisations in staging the event – something which breached the terms of hire.

It concludes the authority should review the process for hiring out its venues to make sure it has enough information to make “better considered decisions” in the future.

It also aims to make it clearer what the obligations are upon anyone using their venues.

The report came before the full council on May 1, during which the DUP’s Gavin Robinson denounced what had taken place as a “gratuitous glorification of terrorism”.

With a raft of centenary events due in the years ahead, he said: “We need to know the details. We need to know what’s going to happen... that there are no surprises and nothing that is going to cause hurt, because the images that came out of Whiterock were deeply regrettable.”

When a row flared in the chamber in April about the event, Sinn Fein’s Steven Corr declared: “I’ll stand over Ballymurphy, and I’ll stand by the people of Ballymurphy lock, stock and barrel. I don’t cherry pick what I support or don’t support.”

At the most recent meeting on Thursday, May 1, he told councillors: “I accept fully the recommendations and outcome of the report.”