Wednesday 23 January 2019

Taoiseach faces criticism for agreeing to visit Orange Order HQ in Northern Ireland

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is facing criticism for agreeing to launch a Belfast festival which many link to the Republican movement.

The Taoiseach will travel North tomorrow to attend a series of events including an historic visit to the headquarters of the Orange Order.

While that is being viewed as an attempt to reach out to the unionist community, Mr Varadkar’s participation in Féile an Phobail is attracting more attention.

The festival in West Belfast was born out of the Troubles in 1988. Former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was instrumental to its foundation.

Among the events planned is a talk by the leaders of ‘The Great Escape’ when 38 IRA prisoners broke out of H-Block in Long Kesh in 1983. An advertising for the discussion says their actions “dealt a huge blow to the Thatcher regime in Ireland”.

UUP MP Doug Beattie tweeted last that by launching the festival, it was “hard not to see you endorsing” the prison break.

Austin Stack, whose father was murdered by the IRA, said the move signalled “the romance continues” between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.

IRA abuse victim Maria Cahill questioned whether the Taoiseach realised some of the events scheduled to take place during the festival.

“I think it’s a huge error of judgment and particularly hurtful for me and my family,” she said.

Féile an Phobhail organisers say that from its beginning it has “sought to display and showcase the positives of West Belfast and the incredible talent and creativity in this community”.

“Féile has also worked hard to provide young people with alternatives away from bonfires and the trouble that occurred in August each year.”

One of the highlights of the festival, which will attract over 100,000 people, will be a concert performance by popstar Olly Murs.

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