SIXTEEN flute bands which last weekend took part in a memorial parade for a sectarian killer received Covid-19 support grants, the North Belfast News has learned.
The bands have for years been regular participants in the annual event, which pays tribute to Brian Robinson, a UVF man who murdered innocent Catholic civilian Paddy McKenna (43) on the Crumlin Road on September 2, 1989.
But despite their history of celebrating a sectarian assassin, between them the 16 bands last year received £30,500 from the Ulster-Scots Agency's resilience fund, designed to help 'Ulster-Scots groups' face up to economic hardship during the Covid pandemic. The fund is overseen by the Department for Communities.
Mr McKenna was walking close to the Ardoyne shops when Robinson jumped off the back of a motorcycle and fired multiple shots into him. Robinson was shot dead by a female undercover soldier shortly after the murder.
Organised by the ‘Brian Robinson Memorial Committee’, the parade saw 54 flute bands taking part on Saturday past, including bands from Scotland and Liverpool.
The resilience scheme, which was announced in November 2020 by then Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, made £850,000 available to see groups through the pandemic in a scheme administered by the Ulster-Scots Agency.
The agency criteria was ‘Small grants of up to £3,000 made available to Ulster-Scots groups to support running costs and Covid-19 safety.'
Amongst the 16 recipients were Shankill Protestant Boys, Upper Falls Protestant Boys Flute Band, Cloughfern Young Conquerors Flute Band, Whiterock Flute Band, South Belfast Protestant Boys Flute Band.
North Belfast SDLP Councillor Carl Whyte said he was “astonished” that public money was allocated to organisations “who involve themselves in the commemoration of sectarian murderers".
“The fact that in 2022 a parade commemorating a UVF killer who callously murdered an innocent Catholic continues to take place is deeply shameful and an insult to the families of victims," he said.
“The news that some bands who took part in this parade are also in receipt of public money is astonishing and I have written to the Chief Executive of the Ulster-Scots Agency demanding an answer as to how such bands are deemed suitable recipients of these funds.
"I have also written to the Communities Minister [Sinn Féin's Deirdre Hargey] asking what oversight she and her department have in the allocation of public money to organisations who involve themselves in the commemoration of sectarian murderers.
“The fact that many families and individuals struggled to make ends meet during the Covid pandemic yet flute bands who commemorate loyalist killers received Covid grants is simply outrageous.”
In their response to our questions the Ulster-Scots Agency made no reference to any oversight that they carried out regarding the bands involved and their past history of attending this annual parade, nor did they answer how the bands that commemorate a sectarian killer are considered Ulster-Scots.