Proposal to bid for Irish music festival wins backing from other unionists, despite being snubbed by TUV

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An attempt by the TUV to snub a bid for a traditional Irish music festival in Northern Ireland has been stopped by other unionists.

t Ards and North Down Borough Council this week, TUV councilor Stephen Cooper tried to block a letter of support from the council being sent to Belfast City Council and Ards Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, who are bidding to host the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.

Despite the letter of support recommended by officials from Ards and North Down Borough Council, the TUV councilor said the council should only ‘note’ and not support the recommendation.

He cited the West Belfast Féile an Phobail controversy earlier this month – during which some members of the public chanted Republican slogans at a Wolfe Tones concert – as reason for not backing the bid for host the festival of Irish tradition.

One of the largest festivals of traditional Irish culture in the world, the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann attracts tens of thousands of international visitors each year. In its 60-year history, the festival has only taken place once in Northern Ireland, in Derry in 2013.

Ards Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, a non-profit, cross-community organization that promotes and encourages traditional Irish music, song and dance in the Ards area, has partnered with Belfast City Council to bid for the festival and asked the local authorities of Ards and North Down to give more weight to the offer with an official letter, in view of events being held in Newtownards and Bangor.

The Ards and North Down Borough Council report states: “Belfast City Council believes this event will greatly complement Belfast’s UNESCO City of Music status. The final offer is being finalized and includes reference to Bangor and Ards.

“If Belfast City Council is successful in organizing the event, follow-up meetings with Ards and North Down could benefit from this event.”

However, Mr Cooper told the Ards and North Borough Council plenary meeting this week: ‘In light of the recent and shameful scenes in West Belfast [Féile an Phobail]I do not want to give the opportunity to repeat the glorification of terrorism.

“On a more pragmatic level, it’s more about the city of Belfast and strengthening their attempts. We don’t get any benefit from it and the language around it is on an island-wide basis, which Obviously, as a trade unionist, I find it reprehensible.

“He said the views of other parties were ‘rather naïve’ and said Belfast City Council had ‘a history of intolerance to Unionist traditions’. He added: ‘Just look across the province, and the deliberate attempt to diminish our expression of culture. »

He added, “Just look across the province and the deliberate attempt to diminish our cultural expressions.

“That’s not to say it’s tit for tat, or that it’s some kind of retaliation, because it’s not. The lack of information here is a major objection, because we don’t know what it is and if we’re going to be involved at all.

He is supported in his proposal by three elected independent trade unionists and a DUP adviser. Twenty-six councillors, from the DUP, Alliance, UUP, Green Party, SDLP and one Independent, voted against the TUV proposal. A counter-proposal to carry the recommendation and support the festival bid was adopted by 26 votes to five.

Ards and North Down Borough Council has a lightly weighted union majority, with 40 elected representatives – 21 from Unionist parties or Unionist independents and the remaining 19 from the Alliance, Green Party, SDLP and one independent. There is only one nationalist councilor in the House of 40 – the smallest nationalist local elected representation in Northern Ireland’s 11 councils.

Alliance adviser Hannah Irwin told the chamber: “In terms of Ards CCE [Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann] himself, I know that many of the group members are residents and good friends of mine in the borough. It would be great if we could support our residents on behalf of Northern Ireland.

DUP Alderman Stephen McIlveen said: “Admittedly, neither Ards CCE nor the Fleadh had any issues with controversy over them. We are walking a dangerous line if we talk about the West Belfast festival and the disgraceful activities that take place there, and then tar all events with this particular brush.

“We would say then: if this happens here, then we must punish all those who seek to celebrate their culture. It might not be something I would participate in, but I’m not going to deny it to others.

UUP adviser Philip Smith said: “If you look at the statistics around this event, this is a major international event. You’re talking about half a million people over 10 days, £50m coming back into the economy, and 25% of those visitors are from outside the island of Ireland.

“The only time it happened in Northern Ireland was in 2013 in Londonderry and I remember at the time Lambegs and flute bands took part on the city side and the side of the water. So there is a lot of potential for inclusion. I’ve been to Ards CCE gigs before and know the great work they do – and I think we should encourage that.

SDLP councilor Joe Boyle said: ‘I hear that trade unionism is being threatened by this and I think it’s really pitiful. I’m surprised the lights didn’t go out when we heard that, because it looked like the world was going to fall apart.

“It’s basically music, it’s basically dancing, it’s basically trying to bring something to our borough that stems from Belfast, and all it’s costing us is a letter of support .”

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