Northern Ireland

Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty backed loyalist band cash bid

Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty has lobbied for money for a loyalist flute band.

He wrote to the Arts Council backing funding for Castlederg Young Loyalist Flute Band.

The band's website includes sections on IRA atrocities, the controversial B Specials and lyrics to songs, including one glorifying UVF terrorist Brian Robinson who murdered a Catholic.

The band is linked to a lodge within the Orange Order.

Tensions

In his letter of support for £5,000, Mr Doherty wrote that the band had reached out to "all sections of the community."

The BBC obtained the letter, written on House of Commons notepaper in June 2011, as part of a Freedom of Information request on political lobbying in support of band funding applications.

He wrote: "I have had quite a bit of inter-action with the band and can unequivocally state they have made a huge contribution in helping to resolve community tensions in Castlederg."

Mr Doherty told the BBC he was not aware of the contents of the band's website, but it was "in transition."

He said: "I am not naïve but this application for new instruments was worth endorsing."

Mr Doherty was asked to write the letter by a third party.

A spokesman for the band said they were "a bit taken aback" to learn the Sinn Fein MP had lobbied for money for them.

Denied

He said: "We are not ashamed of who we are. Four of our members were murdered by the IRA."

But, like Mr Doherty, the spokesman pointed out that the band had participated in cross-border, folk and traditional music events, including those organised under the banner of European peace funding.

The application that Mr Doherty supported was turned down.

But it has just been awarded a £4,800 grant following a separate application, which the Arts Council said was successful as the band had signed up to community relations criteria.

The documentation released to the BBC also revealed a Sinn Fein councillor's backing for funding for another band from the "pro-Unionist marching" tradition.

Cookstown councillor Ciaran McElhone wrote to the Arts Council last October after Drumnacross flute band was denied funding.

According to his correspondence, the band's name had been used on a BEBO site whose content was deemed offensive.

But Cllr McElhone said the band neither commissioned nor condoned the site and the use of its name had been unauthorised.

He said he wanted the Arts Council to reconsider, saying also that the band was "uncontroversial among the Nationalist community."