Leisure Centres are no stranger to muscle. Gymnasiums ae full of posers, pumping iron, preening themselves and feeling good about every show of strength. You expect that. What you dont necessarily expect is to see pictures of Belfast City Council’s Whiterock Leisure Centre hosting an event in its recreation hall, showing republicans exerting muscle in a show of strength of a different kind. Like this.
Who gave the go ahead for this event? The Parks and Leisure Services Committee approved an application in February from an organisation called Cumann Spoirt an Phobail. It was approved on the basis that that constituted organisation, which has in the past received funding from the PSNI and other agencies; would abide by guidelines set by the council. Their application was made on the basis that it was a ‘community celebration’ andthey wanted to give presentations to local people for ‘sport, culture and development.’ No where does it mention an IRA colour party. However, posters were out well in advance, and advertised the nature of the event widely, so there is no excuse for not knowing what was going to be staged. The posters are unambiguous – except for the link to Sinn Féin. They, are mentioned nowhere in the poster but clearly had a hand in the organising. Here it is.
Fast forward to Saturday – after hours for the Leisure Centre in question. Pictures start appearing on user @patrickmul7 ‘s twitter profile. “Whiterock Leisure Centre Murph Colour Party’, was the headline for one. As you can see, it shows a colour party, normally associated with events honouring IRA volunteers – past and present – and lined up behind are more people in uniform. Adorning the walls of the Leisure Centre are banners of IRA personel and The local Sinn Féin cumann. Alcohol can clearly be seen being consumed on the premises.
Belfast City Ratepayers pick up the tab for these centres. Those rates fund running costs like electricty etc and staff wages. So, are Belfast ratepayers paying for the privilege of an event commemorating the IRA on a premises which should be inclusive to all? Is the city for everyone really promoting inclusivity by allowing its premises to be used for events like these? How many non republicans are going to feel confident going to Whiterock now, after its hosting of an IRA event?
Yesterday, some twitter users started to question the use of the hall. Patrick Mulvenna, who was still tweeting from the event, responded “Up da Provies!” He followed it with a tweet to Loyalist Group UPRG “Its our city hall if you want to be a part of it, on behave (meaning behalf) of the council we remember our dead #TAL (Tiochfaidh Ar Lá)” It is this ignorance, this “rub it in your face” attitude which causes outrage amongst those opposed to or on the receiving end of IRA actions. It’s republican triumphalism in its rawest form.
Sinn Féin have been outplaying a strategy of short sharp shocks in relation to how it handles the past. Castlederg and other recent republican commemorations are not ill thought out PR disasters. They’re planned, with the full knowledge of knowing they’ll cause offence. It won’t help with Unionist engagement, but Sinn Féin does not care about that. It is conditioning the general public with a successive trail of events honouring its dead, in order to take the sting out, bit by bit. The 100th anniversary of Cumann na mBann this year is seen as a dry run for the centenery of the Easter Rising in 2016. And, in the meantime, Sinn Fein will try to marry its volunteers of a seperate IRA, with those of 100 years ago as it hijacks and monopolises history once again.
Belfast City Council have questions to answer in relation to this event. Why was the event given approval and who approved it? Was there any cost to the taxpayer from having the building open? How much money changed hands for the hiring of the hall? How many members of staff had to stay in the building to facilitate this event? Did the event breach guidelines for usage of Whiterock Leisure Centre? What sanction, if any, is available with regards to the applicant and will it be taken?
Whatever the response, Sinn Féin will continue to promote the “Up da Provies”, message, and seek to glorify and treat as benign the ruthlessness of that organisation and its volunteers. “Up da Provies?” Hardly the stuff of Unionist Engagement.