Belfast City Council gave contentious festival £357,000 in funding

A Belfast city councillor has said funding for Feile an Phobail should be dealt with the same way as money being allocated for loyalist bonfires.

UUP Alderman Chris McGimpsey made the call after the local authority revealed that it gave this year’s “Festival of the People” more than £350,000 of ratepayers’ money.

A screen grab from the video showing IRA flags being displayed in the crowd at Falls Park on Sunday

A screen grab from the video showing IRA flags being displayed in the crowd at Falls Park on Sunday

Just two days after the council said it wasn’t able to say exactly how much funding it had contributed to the 30th anniversary West Belfast Festival, it has revealed that the figure was a whopping £357,000.

There have been calls for the council to rethink its support for the festival after organisers shared a video on social media showing people waving IRA flags.

Other videos from the festival’s closing concert in Falls Park on Sunday night, posted by individuals on social media but not shared by the organisers, show members of the 10,000-strong crowd chanting “Oh ah up the ‘RA.”

The controversial event was headlined by Irish rebel music band the Wolfe Tones – a booking that has been criticised by UUP, DUP and Alliance Party politicians.

Irish republican band the Wolfe Tones headlined the final night of this year's Feile an Phobail at Falls Park.

Irish republican band the Wolfe Tones headlined the final night of this year's Feile an Phobail at Falls Park.

Questions have subsequently been raised about the inclusivity of the festival and the level of public money going towards it, with Mr McGimpsey urging the local authority and other funding bodies to rethink their support for the annual programme of events.

Suggesting that the council should consider withholding part of any future funding it gives to Feile, and only make payment if the organisers abide by any conditions set by the council, he said: “With some bonfires what we do effectively is pay the funding retrospectively, so if people do things which breach the criteria we set out then the money can be withheld.

“We should consider doing something similar with Feile, withhold part of the funding until after the event so that if they breach our criteria there would be a financial penalty.”

The veteran councillor added: “We have given them over a third of a million pounds this year and I think they overstepped the mark with the Wolfe Tones on Sunday night.”

On Tuesday a Belfast City Council spokesperson told the News Letter that it would have to submit a Freedom of Information request in order to find out how much funding it allocated to Feile an Phobail this year, meaning it could have taken up to 20 working days to get an answer.

However, yesterday the council changed its line, saying a Freedom of Information request wouldn’t be needed after all.

A council spokesperson said: “We funded the Feile festival programme 2018, £357,000 in total.

“The programme 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.”