Council urged to rethink West Belfast Festival funding after display of IRA flags

Belfast City Council and other funders have been urged to rethink their support for the West Belfast Festival after organisers of the event shared a video on social media showing people displaying IRA flags.

This year’s Feile an Phobail (Festival of the People) concluded on Sunday evening with a concert in Falls Park headlined by Irish rebel music band the Wolfe Tones.

A screen grab from the video showing IRA flags being displayed in the crowd at the Wolfe Tones concert marking the end of Feile an Phobail 2018

A screen grab from the video showing IRA flags being displayed in the crowd at the Wolfe Tones concert marking the end of Feile an Phobail 2018

Video footage of the 10,000-strong crowd, which shows a number of people displaying Irish tricolours, including one with IRA and another with PIRA written on them, was shared on the Feile an Phobail social media pages.

Belfast City councillor, Alderman Chris McGimpsey, said he was “very concerned” by what had taken place, saying the footage posted online portrays “a very bad image” of Belfast. He also claimed that the crowd had chanted “oh ah up the ‘RA” during the concert.

“They (the festival organisers) have got hundreds of thousands of pounds off us (the council) over the years and to put the Wolfe Tones on, they knew what they were going to get. One of their songs last night included the lyrics ‘F the Union Jack we want our country back’. I mean that’s not appropriate for an event funded by ratepayers’ money,” he said.

“It undermines the other work they have done with other aspects of the festival and it gives a very bad image of west Belfast and of Belfast generally.

The controversial video was shared by Feile an Phobail on social media

The controversial video was shared by Feile an Phobail on social media

“Unless they (the organisers) can get a grip on this issue I think the council needs to look very seriously at the efficacy of funding the West Belfast Festival to the amount they do.”

The veteran UUP councillor, who sits on the local authority’s City Growth Committee, said other funders and sponsors also “need to look seriously at their support for the event”.

“It is a dreadful image to put out all over the world. The decent people of west Belfast are being branded as terrorist supporters, and that’s not right,” he added.

Also expressing concern at the display of pro-IRA flags, DUP councillor Brian Kingston said: “This is totally unacceptable at an event in a council park and receiving council funding.

“The large number of tricolours on display works against it being described as an inclusive event, but the promotion of a proscribed terrorist organisation takes it into another category and we will be asking council officers to get clear answers from organisers on how this could happen within the controlled area of an event at a publicly funded festival.”

According to Feile an Phobail, which this year marked its 30th anniversary, the organisation aims to “promote social inclusion and the celebration of diversity”.

However, this isn’t the first controversy to hit the festival, having previously attracted criticism from unionists for incorporating events based on the past activities of IRA terrorists.

The News Letter made a number of attempts to contact Feile an Phobail, but without success.

However, in a statement on the ITV News website, festival director Kevin Gamble said: “This year, representatives from all communities were welcomed to Féile to have their voice heard. This covered a wide and diverse range of society.”

A spokesperson for Belfast City Council said: “We are working with all of our funded cultural partners to achieve shared celebrations of culture in Belfast. The terms of our funding state that the grant must comply with statutory equality provisions. Belfast City Council will be engaging directly with the organiser concerning this matter.”

A spokesperson for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which also funds the festival, claimed that those working for Feile 2018 had been “successful in promoting a positive and confident image of west Belfast”.

The spokesperson added: “We are confident in Feile’s abilities to manage the concerns expressed by some politicians regarding this particular event and future programmes.”