Saturday 17 August 2019

Campaigner welcomes Michael Conlan apology over use of pro-IRA song

Michael Conlan
Michael Conlan

Claire McNeilly

A victims campaigner has welcomed an apology made by boxer Michael Conlan after he controversially walked out for a fight to a pro-IRA song.

On St Patrick's Day in New York's Madison Square Garden, the west Belfast boxer provoked outrage when he made his way to the ring to The Wolfe Tones song Celtic Symphony, which includes the lyrics "ooh ah up the RA".

The song choice ahead of the 27-year-old's bout with Ruben Garcia Hernandez was widely condemned by politicians and victims of IRA violence for "glorifying terrorism".

There were subsequent calls for him to be suspended but his promoter, Bob Arum, said the fighter didn't mean to offend anyone and people "need to get over it because the Troubles are over".

Conlan has now, however, apologised to those offended by the song choice, acknowledging that sport is about bringing people together rather than fostering divisions.

"It was a misjudgement by me and we'll not be using the music again," he told the BBC.

"I've learned that I'm a role model, I'm under the microscope and things like this are not good for boxing.

"I meant no offence at all. To the people who were offended - I definitely apologise."

The father-of-two added: "Boxing is a sport that brings people together. I always want to be part of that and going forward I will be a part of that completely."

Mr Donaldson, spokesman for Innocent Victims United and himself a boxing fan, told the Belfast Telegraph that he accepted Conlan's apology.

"Michael Conlan has acknowledged that he understands he is a role model and that the sport for which he is involved is rooted in a heritage of bridging the divide and bringing people together from across our community breaking down political, religious and class barriers," he said.

"Boxing is a sport of equals."

Mr Donaldson explained: "Pro-terrorist chants or lyrics are neither Irish nor British songs - they are songs of terrorism idolatry, often shaped around a catchy tune which sucks in people who have questionable understanding of those lyrics and their impact upon others," he said.

"Traditional Irish music and folk music is something to be cherished as is the music and songs with rich Ulster Scots roots and heritage.

"What is not acceptable is the mainstream use of music and chants which glorify or diminish the impacts of terrorism."

The spokesman added: "Michael Conlan can learn much from this experience, he has the opportunity to really contribute something positive to this society beyond his exploits in the ring if he chooses to do so."

Prior to his apology, many people pointed out how the song choice contrasted with views the west Belfast boxer Conlan had previously expressed.

In 2012, he tweeted an anti-sectarian message, writing: "Doesn't matter where you're from in Ireland or Northern Ireland!#boxing#onefamilyoneblood#stopthissectarianism."

During an appearance on RTE's Late Late Show, however, he also spoke of his love of Irish traditional music and, in particular, The Wolfe Tones, describing himself as a "full-force rebel".

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