Another example of the official promotion of sectarian (one of the key elements of the peace process) came to light this week when it was revealed that public bodies were helping to finance loyalist marching bands.
In response to a freedom of information request, Stormont’s Department of Culture revealed that sixty five bands received funds totally more than £166,100 last year. The Arts Council gave about £102,500 to 24 bands; the Ulster Scots Agency gave £56,000 to 38 bands; and the Big Lottery Fund gave £6,980 to three bands (this was under its Awards for All scheme).
Among the bands receiving support (£4,600 from the Lottery) was the Pride of the Ardoyne. It takes part in the flashpoint parade past the Ardoyne shops every year displaying a banner bearing emblem of the Young Citizen Volunteers – the UVF’s youth wing - and the names of two deceased UVF members. The Mourne Young Defenders Flute Band received £1,800 from the Ulster Scots Agency for musical tuition and a further £1,219 for an ‘Ulster Scots summer school’ run by its members. In 2006 it took part in the Love Ulster parade in Dublin that provoked a riot.
That loyalist bands should be involved in sectarian intimidation is hardly a surprise – this is the very reason for their existence. The most sinister element is that they are being legitimised by the state; their coat trailing antics repackaged as cultural expression.
In justifying this the funding bodies corrupt the very principles they are supposedly there to promote. For example, on its support for loyalist bands, a spokesman of Arts Council claimed that it “monitors the artistic quality of applicants and is aware of its obligations under ‘Good Relations’ and Section 75 legislation.” He also claimed that the Council was “actively encouraging applicants to develop and expand their audiences and to break down barriers in society, in line with the aspirations of the Good Friday Agreement”. A spokeswoman for National Lottery said that it helped “organisations to run projects which will bring people together and increase community activity”. Of course the whole ethos and activity of loyalists stands in direct opposition to breaking down barriers and bringing people together. They are there to fan sectarian sentiment and maintain divisions.
The reason for this apparent contradiction is revealed by the Arts Council spokesperson when he said that it was acting “in line with the aspirations of the Good Friday Agreement”. The official bankrolling of bigotry is an inevitable consequence of the politics that underpin the peace process - that the struggle in the north is not about self determination or imperialism but the competing aspirations of two communities. Once this has been accepted, as it has by Sinn Fein and the SDLP, how can the demands of loyalists, such as the right to march anywhere they please, be denied? Sure isn’t part of their culture?