Ardoyne Fleadh: police rethink on rebel band’s remarks

The Druids: Mick O'Brien, Gary Lawlor, Mick Dunne and Paddy Mangan
The Druids: Mick O'Brien, Gary Lawlor, Mick Dunne and Paddy Mangan

Unionists have cautiously welcomed Thursday night’s decision by the PSNI to formally submit a file to the Public Prosecution Service regarding comments made by a rebel band at the Ardoyne Fleadh.

And they demanded that the PPS initiate criminal proceedings against the band whose singer urged British soldiers and their “Orange comrades” to get out of Ireland.

Officers received a number of complaints about the videoed remarks made during a performance by Kildare-based band The Druids. Earlier this week, the PSNI said that they were taking no action. However, on Thursday night the PSNI said it is to formally ask prosecutors to decide whether to press charges.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said: “The DUP believes this warrants legal action in the criminal courts. If this step brings that possibility closer then it will be welcome.

“A key question is what is the PSNI recommendation to the PPS? If it remains no action then this is a paper exercise in buck-passing.”

Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Tom Elliott, who met the Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory on Thursday, urged the PPS to pursue criminal charges.

Following the meeting, Mr Elliott said he felt Mr McGrory was “very weak” on this matter and suggested another point of the law the PPS could look at. He said Mr McGrory claimed the DPP was merely asked for a view on the matter.

“That is splitting hairs. We felt he was very weak,” said Mr Elliott. He welcomed the PSNI decision to formally submit a file to the PPS. “It appears that it was rushed through in order to get it off the books but they have found that that has not worked.

“We put very strong points to the DPP and he gave us assurances that he would look at them,” said Mr Elliott, who has called for a meeting with the Chief Constable on the matter.

TUV leader Jim Allister tabled an amendment to a motion to be debated in the Assembly next week deploring the lack of action of the investigative and prosecuting authorities in respect of the “criminal offence of incitement to hatred”.

Mr Allister said: “The PSNI have been embarrassed into backtracking, but it must be a proper investigation, not merely a case of patching up their faux pas. I still intend to press ahead with my amendment, which I hope Mr Speaker will permit to be debated.”

A motion has been tabled at the Assembly to debate the comments and calls for all public funding to be withdrawn from the Ardoyne Fleadh event.

TUV Belfast Court councillor Jolene Bunting described the way the situation has been handled as “shambolic”.

“The PSNI have had to go into reverse gear and finally send a file to the PPS. There was no such hesitation or confusion when it came to flag protestors,” she said.

Earlier this week the PSNI said that they were taking no action against the rebel band.

The decision had been made after taking advice from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) – an option available to officers to avoid the bureaucracy of officially passing a file to the PPS to make the call.

Chief Constable George Hamilton said he was now going to formally pass a file to the PPS to reassure the public about the decision-making process.

“Given the public commentary there has been, the public interest there has been, the concern there has been, the commentary yesterday (Thursday) from the director (of public prosecutions Barra McGrory) that the PPS were not presented with a full evidence file, if it helps to maintain or restore any deficit in public confidence in the criminal justice system, in the few hours it will take to translate that material that was provided for a discussion with the PPS into a prosecution file then that’s what we will do.”