Unionists have escalated a campaign to demonise Irish resistance to British rule by falsely linking it to sectarianism.
Attempts are being made to prevent tributes to the armed struggle of the IRA, from music events to wearing t-shirts.
The West Belfast festival, Féile An Phobail, has become a top target following a performance of traditional rebel songs by the hugely popular Wolfe Tones.
Senior DUP figure Emma Little Pengelly called for an “urgent investigation” around funding from public bodies for the festival.
“They are young people, many of them born after the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and yet we are seeing this type of glorification of terrorism which is absolutely unacceptable,” she declared.
The Irish Republican Socialist Party slammed what it said was a unionist “witch hunt” against the festival, which it credited for helping to bring an end to nationalist bonfires in the city which had been associated with anti-social activity.
There have already been victims of the unionist campaign. Larne FC footballer John Herron, who previously played for Celtic, has been suspended from his team after complaints after he was pictured wearing a pro-IRA t-shirt at the festival. And prominent unionist broadcaster Stephen Nolan claimed he had convinced the sponsors of the Feile’s ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’ for children to review their sponsorship following the Wolfe Tone event.
A new mural to recall the resistance of the Belfast youth to the RUC, unveiled by a popular local band which performed at the festival, was also condemned
Dan Murphy, the IRSP election candidate for West Belfast, said, “The entire area has been buzzing for the past 3 weeks, the Féile is the annual highlight of this community, it brings neighbours and entire communities together and most importantly it gives us the opportunity to celebrate our past and also look to the future. The Unionist and Alliance attempts to cut funding, endorsed by sociopaths like Stephen Nolan would set this community back decades.”
Sinn Féin assembly member Deirdre Hargey praised the work of all those who worked to ensure young people became involved in diversionary activities.
“It’s a real credit to everyone involved in the running of a series of fantastic community festivals right across the city which promotes everything that is positive about Belfast,” she said.
“It’s also a credit to the young people of Belfast who played their part in supporting their community and helping to keep it safe while having a great night out”.
But there was also republican criticism of the heavy involvement in the festival by the PSNI. Aindriú Mac Ruaidhrí, Lasair Dhearg spokesperson, said the festival parade had been “led and marshalled by British State Militia”.
“Dressed in their ‘Community Policing’ garb, these are the same friendly faces that boot doors up hallways in the middle of the night and subject children to abuse while heavily armed and wearing combat gear,” he said. “Today they sat on bicycles not normally seen on the Falls Road, presenting friendly faces.”
He noted that the equivalent of one fifth of the population of the Six Counties had been subjected to PSNI harassment, with children as young as 13 years of age being subject to searches.
Mr Mac Ruaidhrí said the force has a deliberate and well known strategy of using community organised events in republican areas in order to ‘normalise’ its presence, but “the stop and search statistics of this force are not normal. Their interaction with children outside of managed community events is not normal. Their use of state legislation to forcibly search children is not normal. The deliberate withholding of information through state courts when it comes to the death of children like Noah Donohoe is not normal.
“The question needs to be asked. Why should great community events organised by Féile an Phobail be subject to the deliberate propagandising of a force that wishes to foist itself upon our community? The same community it subjects to continued harassment and political policing.
“Political control of the PSNI will, as ever, rest firmly in Number 10 Downing Street. Their presence at Féile events benefits nobody but the PSNI and their state directed strategy.”