Unionists have slammed the Irish premier’s decision to open a festival in west Belfast, amid claims that the event “glorifies and celebrates” terrorism.
While Leo Varadkar is visiting the Orange Order headquarters in Belfast, tomorrow he is set to officially launch the Féile an Phobail (Festival of the People) in the west of the city.
The community festival, now celebrating its 30th year, will feature events such as open air concerts, drama, art exhibitions, carnival parades and more.
But two events in particular have drawn ire from unionist politicians, with TUV leader Jim Allister branding them “sick and insulting”.
The first, to take place on Sunday in Andersonstown Social Club, is an event dubbed ‘The Great Escape’.
This will see leaders of the 1983 Maze Prison jailbreak – in which 38 IRA prisoners escaped and a prison officer died – recount the event.
Meanwhile, another event on August 6 entitled ‘From Guerrilla War to Government –The Ballymurphy Story Tour’, has also drawn criticism.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said the ‘Great Escape’ event was “celebrating the murder of a prison officer”, while the ‘guerilla war’ referred to in the programme “amounted to the murder of men, women and children”.
He told the News Letter: “The problem I have is not the festival, infact I think it is a great idea. But I don’t think it needs to have events like this. Purely by the wording you get a sense that it is glorifying and romanticising terrorism.
“The problem with Leo Varadkar is that he is coming not just to visit, but to open the programme of events. To me by opening the programme, he is endorsing the programme.
“The promotion of terrorism is wrong and he should reconsider.”
Meanwhile, Mr Allister said the taoiseach’s opening of the festival was “grossly insulting to victims of IRA terrorism....given the nature of the event”.
The North Antrim MLA added: “An event which commemorates and celebrates a terrorist ‘success’ in this fashion is sick and insulting.
“Once again the concerns of victims have been forgotten about.”
The TUV leader called on Mr Varadkar to “stop and reflect about the nature of the events he is lending credibility to by launching the festival”.
He added: “It would do no harm for the Irish Government to, for once, think about the concerns and feelings of innocent victims.
“Seeking to balance such tawdry behaviour with a visit to Orange HQ does not detract from the pro-Sinn Fein road he is treading in West Belfast.”
Sinn Fein MP for Belfast West, Paul Maskey said he is delighted the taoiseach is to launch the festival, adding: “Féile an Phobail represents all that is good in west Belfast and An Taoiseach will get to see for himself the vibrancy, the creativity, the talent, inclusivity and energy of the local community.
“Féile is now the biggest community festival in Europe and there is huge anticipation in advance of this year’s landmark anniversary.
“An Taoiseach’s participation in the launch will provide a huge boost to all those who work to make Féile the great success story it has become.”
Mr Maskey also welcomed Mr Varadkar’s historic meeting with the Orange Order today, stating: “I hope this might open up a new era of engagement between the Grand Lodge and wider society.”
The News Letter has reached out to the taoiseach’s office for comment.