Unionist criticism continued to mount yesterday after a republican band escaped prosecution for saying that it was time Orangemen “f****d off back to England”.
Barra McGrory, the director of public prosecutions, took to the airwaves yesterday to defend the decision, saying that neither the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) or police had believed the comments amounted to “using words or behaviour intended to stir up hatred” under the law.
But his explanation failed to quench anger from critics, with the DUP issuing a stinging statement afterwards accusing him of “weasel words”.
The UUP said that the affair had “badly shaken confidence in the neutrality and fairness of our justice system”, while UKIP said the lack of legal action had been “incomprehensible”.
Speaking on the radio show Mr McGrory agreed the group member’s comments were inflammatory.
He went on to add that “as it was taking place in Ardoyne, in that context, to an audience that was being played to in an entertainment context... it was considered that the threshold was simply not met”.
He said the decision was made with reference to the Public Order legislation of 1987.
William Humphrey, DUP MLA for North Belfast, responded: “The more explanation that Barra McGrory offers the bigger the hole he digs.
“The extent of the event was a free open-air concert attended by thousands, including many young people. This was filmed and proudly put on YouTube for the world to see. This wasn’t held in some dark back room of a pub or club.”
Asked to react to the criticism yesterday, PSNI Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw said: “Police conducted a full and thorough investigation into complaints made and evidence was presented to the PPS. The PPS has provided pre-prosecutorial advice that no criminal offence has been committed.”
The SDLP’s Alban Maginness yesterday condemned the band’s comments, but agreed with the DPP’s stance.
Meanwhile there was a call from fleadh organisers for the DUP to “investigate festivals in their own area”, citing footage of a band performing what it dubbed a “very offensive” loyalist song on July 11, 2013, in north Belfast.
During that event, a singer had delivered the lyrics: “There are slogans painted, red, white and blue / They tell the Pope where he can go and what he can do.’’
The DUP branded this a “dodgy comparison” and said: “ This attempt to deflect attention from their own event will fail, as will the attempt by the PPS and PSNI to sweep it under the carpet.”
. The row stems from a performance given by band The Druids at the Ardoyne Fleadh gathering in Belfast on Saturday, August 24, at which one of them told the large crowd that in “the occupied six counties”, British soldiers were still “parading around the streets of Ireland as if they owned it”.
To rapturous cheers, he told the large audience: “It’s about time that they took down their little Union jacks, it’s about time that they got all their Orange comrades together, it’s about time that they loaded up the boat and it’s about time that they all f****d off back to England where they came from.”