Northern Ireland

Ardoyne Fleadh event investigated over 'hate speech' complaint

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Media captionThe Druids appeared on stage during the Ardoyne Fleadh on Sunday night

Police have said they are investigating two complaints relating to a north Belfast festival after claims that an event on Sunday featured "hate speech".

The DUP and TUV said they had reported comments made by musical act The Druids at the Ardoyne Fleadh to the police.

The band's singer said the comments had been "taken out of context".

The chairperson of the Ardoyne Fleadh said he "regrets any offence" caused by the comment and said it did not reflect the views of organisers.

"It was wrong, regrettable, disappointing and should not have happened," Eddie Copeland said.

'Out of context'

A video from the event shows a member of the band telling the audience that British soldiers in Ireland "should get together with their Orange comrades" and go back to England.

The County Kildare-based group's singer Mick O'Brien told the Leinster Leader that the remarks "wouldn't be our normal comments as such [during a gig], but again it is taken out of context".

"That was an isolated incident within our set," he added.

Belfast City Council has confirmed to the BBC that it did not have any part in funding the event.


One of the public bodies that funds the event, the Community Relations Council, confirmed it had given £5,000 towards infrastructure costs and marketing, but not towards the cost of performers.

The council said that the grant was "subject to a number of conditions" and failure to meet such conditions could result in a grant offer being withdrawn.

"These comments do not reflect the views of the organisers of the Ardoyne Fleadh or the people of Ardoyne," Mr Copeland said.

"The Ardoyne Fleadh is a community festival that has been running for 24 years.

"We are a totally voluntary group who struggle yearly to raise the funds necessary to make the event happen, which gives thousands of local people a positive outlet over the tense summer months."

Mr Copeland said the fleadh's organising committee would be reviewing its guidelines in relation to performers and acts "to ensure that this does not happen again".

Ladbrokes said they had sponsored sporting events associated with the fleadh and that their intention was "to sponsor events that are beneficial and inclusive to all across the community".

"All sponsorship proposals which are received come under review to ensure they are aligned with this policy and will be rejected if they fail to meet this criteria," said Hayley O'Connor of Ladbrokes.

Image caption Lee Reynolds said public funding for the event should be withdrawn

The DUP said the event featured "the glorification of terrorism" and called for public funding for the festival to be withdrawn.

Councillor Lee Reynolds, from the DUP, said the comments were "hate speech" and "incitement to hatred".

"Their introductions to their songs, parts of the songs and also the songs that they chose to play were deeply offensive," he said.

He said that public funding for the event should be pulled and the DUP had opposed licensing the event.


"We understand this event received a range of public funding. We believe that the actions of last night justify the withdrawal of that funding and also the withdrawal of sponsorship," he said.

"As regards these concerts, they have continually been raised as a problem and the complaints about them have been ignored by the organisers.

"What happened on Sunday night was bound to happen."

Sinead Brown, who was a steward at the fleadh, contacted the BBC about the event.

Image caption Sinead Brown said the views of The Druids were not the views of everyone at the fleadh

She said it was impossible to control what was said on stage by The Druids.

"It doesn't matter whether you are Catholic or Protestant, it doesn't matter whether you were born in east Belfast or north Belfast," she said.

"Everybody should be allowed to celebrate their culture and what The Druids did was make a free speech, okay, probably not the greatest speech they could have made, but that was their opinion.

"It wasn't the general opinion of everybody at the fleadh."

She said people in the area "have to listen" to band music at the Twaddell Avenue loyalist protest camp "every night at half seven and then again at half three on a Saturday".

"We have to listen to constant band music, that loud that we can't hear our TVs in our own house. So is that not the same thing?" she asked.

"Are we not being oppressed by having to listen to that all the time? We only had a three-day festival.


"Three nights out of 365 is no biggie and actually that was only one night out of the three that was more rebel. How was that us being bigoted?

"Maybe The Druids made a mistake by playing that song or making that speech, but again it can't be taken as everybody's opinion."

Sinn Féin councillor Jim McVeigh said the fleadh was "a very successful community festival which has been running for many years under often very challenging and difficult circumstances".

"There is currently a police investigation ongoing into an alleged sectarian comment made from the stage of the fleadh on Sunday night.

"Sectarianism is wrong and it has no place at music or cultural events."

TUV councillor Jolene Bunting said: "The noise from the Ardoyne festival could be heard in the Shankill area.

"The volume was turned up considerably around midnight and people, including myself, could clearly hear pro-IRA songs and chanting in their homes. Not only was this provoking but it was particularly distressing for elderly people and young children."

Ulster Unionist councillor David Browne said the comments "would seem to indicate that many republicans are still stuck in the past".

Image caption Alban Maginness said withdrawing funding for the Ardoyne Fleadh would not be a "good step forward"

"The fact that these were made in an interface area where we are all trying to build community relations makes it even worse," he said.

North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness, from the SDLP, said that it would be "short-sighted" to withdraw funding because of the incident.

"Certainly I think that this band overstepped the mark in terms of their remarks at this concert," he said.

"However, I don't think that abandoning funding or suspending funding is a good step forward.

"I think it's important that the people who look after the Fleadh Cheoil in Ardoyne review what has happened.

"I do think that anybody who speaks so offensively in relation to the Protestant community, the loyalist community or, indeed, the Orange, is being intolerant."