Northern Ireland

Irish language rappers Kneecap accuse British government of ‘censorship’ after funding scheme application blocked

West Belfast trio say they had been successful in application before learning decision was overruled

West Belfast rap trio Kneecap pose with a red 1980 Mazda 626
Kneecap Irish language hip-hop group Kneecap. PICTURE: PEADAR GILL (PEADAR GILL)

West Belfast hip-hop group Kneecap have claimed their application to a music funding scheme was blocked by the British government over a gig poster showing former Prime Minister Boris Johnson strapped to a rocket on top of a bonfire.

The Irish language rap trio, whose rise to fame is depicted in a new movie that won an award at the recent Sundance Film Festival, had applied to the UK Music Export Growth Scheme, which aims to help grow artists’ profiles internationally through grants.

A UK government department behind the funding has said they do not wish to give UK taxpayer’s money to a group that “oppose the United Kingdom itself”.

The scheme, funded by the UK’s Department for Business and Trade and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, along with music industry investment, has previously benefited acts including 2023 Mercury Prize winners Ezra Collective.

West Belfast rap band Kneecap. Picture by Mal McCann
Kneecap, whose debut album is due for release later this year, along with a semi-fictionalised movie of their rise to fame. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

Kneecap had applied for the scheme and say they were successful, before learning their application had been blocked.

In a statement on Thursday, the band said: “We’ve just been informed that our application to the Music Export Growth Scheme (MEGS) was independently approved and signed off by selection board.

“It was then blocked directly by the British government who overruled the independent selection board.

“We’re told that our 2019 ‘Farewell to the Union’ Tour poster p****d off the Tories.”

The poster for Kneecap's 2019 'Farewell to the Union' Tour.
The poster for Kneecap's 2019 'Farewell to the Union' Tour.

The group, comprising Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Próvaí, added: “Once again the British government is trying to silence voices from West Belfast - once again it will fail! Fair f***s to the artists who got the funding.”

The statement ended with the term “fight censorship”.

The poster for the group’s 2019 tour, which saw sold-out gigs in London, Liverpool and Glasgow, depicted Boris Johnson tied to the rocket alongside former DUP First Minister Arlene Foster.

The cartoon image showed Mo Chara and Móglaí Bap smiling beside the lit bonfire.

The Irish News contacted the Department for Business and Trade, and a spokesperson said the department stands by a statement reported on Thursday on behalf of department secretary Kemi Badenoch, which said: “We fully support freedom of speech, but it’s hardly surprising that we don’t want to hand out UK taxpayers’ money to people that oppose the United Kingdom itself.”

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch
UK Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch. (Danny Lawson/PA)

Last month saw former Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers criticise £1.6 million of funds provided by Northern Ireland Screen and the National Lottery to film the band’s new movie, which is directed by Rich Peppiatt and produced by Fine Point Films.

The Tory MP told the Times newspaper the money could have been used to fund public services “rather than promote such a controversial group”.

DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley also said he was “appalled” at the funding.

The Kneecap movie, which stars Michael Fassbender, won the NEXT audience award at Sundance last month, and became the first Irish language film to screen in the prestigious Utah festival’s history.

The film has been acquired by Sony Pictures Classics and will see its worldwide release in cinemas later this year.