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Residents: Band's move is just 'a smokescreen'

Published 12/05/2014

Connla Young




NATIONALISTS residents have dismissed as a "PR stunt" a decision by a controversial loyalist band to disband.

The Irish News reported on Saturday that The Young Conway Volunteers had folded.

The Shankill Road-based band created controversy in July 2012 when it was filmed walking in circles outside St Patrick's Church while playing the sectarian Famine Song. Band member Billy Bell subsequently pleaded guilty to common assault on north Belfast man JJ Magee and was bound over to keep the peace for 12 months and fined £500.

The band was set up in memory of a member of the UVF's youth wing who died in 2003.

Mr Magee has since been co-opted to Belfast City Council as a Sinn Fein representative.

The incident sparked a parading crisis after parishioners and nationalist residents in nearby Carrick Hill objected to music being played by bands taking part in loyal order parades through the area.

In a statement posted on a social networking site, the band said it had taken the decision to call it a day because of falling numbers.

"Because of the bands low numbers the truth is we would not have been able to get a band out this year," it said. Orange order sources have hinted that some members want to put distance between the organisation and bands that create negative publicity.

However, nationalist residents in north Belfast have dismissed this.

Carrick Hill Concerned Residents Group spokesman Frank Dempsey described the move as a "smokescreen."

"It would have been saying we are not playing music past St Patrick's and Carrick Hill, that would have been a more positive thing," he said.

"I think it's a PR stunt on their behalf and the orange order is in there somewhere. If they want to make a positive gesture then don't play music."

Belfast SDLP councillor Nichola Mallon welcomed the band's break up.

"Blood and thunder bands have no place in our society," she said.

"This move is long overdue. Whether this is a result of a more positive approach by the orange order waits to be seen."

North Belfast Sinn Fein councillor JJ Magee said "the issues at stake are much more serious than the behaviour of any one of those bands no matter how provocative their actions have been.

"We need the loyal orders to make it clear they will abide by the Parades Commission's determinations around the conduct of their members and of the bands they hire for the day.

"Failing that, we will continue to call on the Parades Commission and on the PSNI to deal with any breaches of determinations through due legal process."

Ulster Unionist Party councillor David Brown said: "I don't get excited about these things and I don't see what the big deal is.

"If the church is open and a service is going on you have to be respectful.

"You are bound to have more moderate people saying you have to tone this down a bit but equally there will be people saying why? We are doing nothing wrong."