U-turn by Ulster Council on Derry fleadh welcomed


THE U-TURN by the Ulster Council of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Éireann on its decision not to support Derry's bid for the all-Ireland fleadh next year was widely welcomed yesterday.

The 31-member central executive of Comhaltas will now meet in Dublin on Saturday to decide between Derry, Sligo and Ennis who will get the fleadh, which attracts up to 300,000 visitors and is worth €40 million to the host venue. The fleadh has never been north of the Border.

Derry, which will be UK City of Culture 2013, was viewed as having a good chance of being selected to stage the all-Ireland fleadh next year. However, some Comhaltas members in Ulster opposed the fleadh going to the city as they did not want it linked to a year-long cultural festival that has "UK" in its title. The issue of the dissident republican threat also featured in some arguments.

The Ulster Council of Comhaltas met on Sunday and ruled that it "would be impossible to support or recommend the Derry 2013 fleadh bid due to the recent dissident threats". This was a reference to dissident bomb attacks in Derry last week and to other dissident incidents in the city.

The decision caused consternation among Derry Comhaltas members, as well as among local politicians, with Sinn Féin and the SDLP deploring the decision.

The head of Comhaltas, Labhrás Ó Murchú, also expressed dismay.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness issued a joint statement expressing "astonishment and disappointment".

The PSNI said it had already discussed the matter with relevant local groups, adding that "any security concerns that exist in Northern Ireland should not prevent the fleadh taking place in Derry".

On Tuesday the Ulster Council switched position and unanimously decided to support the Derry bid.

Mr Ó Murchú said he was "absolutely delighted with the good news", saying he also welcomed the positive lobbying from the police, Mr Robinson, Mr McGuinness and other political and civic leaders. "That was important because it shows a whole community interest in the fleadh."