The British Arts Council has given more than £100,000 of lottery money to fund unionist paramilitary `Kick the Pope' bands, including one closely identified with UVF and Red Hand Commandos.
Nationalist politicians have called for an immediate inquiry into why the offensive bands have received funding over scores of deserving applications from other groups.
``This is unbelievable,'' said Sinn Féin's Eoin O Broin, chair of Belfast City Arts Subcommittee. ``I have written to the Director of the Arts Council and asked them for an explanation. We want to know what kind of criteria they have funded these bands under. That money could be better used to fund a variety of deserving projects.''
The South Belfast Young Conquerors band - which received #8,614 of the public cash - are open in their support for unionist paramilitary groups. They have even dedicated an entire page on their official website to the memory of ruthless loyalist Stevie McCrea, who was shot by the IPLO in 1989.
McCrea had served a life sentence for the remorseless killing of 17-year-old Twinbrook youth, James Kerr, shot dead as he walked along the Lisburn Road in 1972. Arrested at the scene, McCrea told the RUC that he had killed the young Catholic man because he was a ``Fenian bastard''.
According to the Ulster Bands Association, the Arts Council resumed instrument funding to bands in December 2001. Prior to this, both flute and accordion bands had been excluded.
Meanwhile, nationalist arts groups - such as the highly acclaimed theatre company Dubbeljoint - have had their applications for financial assistance rejected. In particular, the Arts Council refused to fund Joe Mulheron's recent performance about Irish historical figure Peadar O Donnell.