Frankie Boyle to appear at Belfast festival despite complaints

Féile an Phobail faced protests because of comedian’s comments on Down syndrome

Frankie Boyle’s appearance is one of the headline shows of the festival.

Frankie Boyle’s appearance is one of the headline shows of the festival.


A controversial performance by Frankie Boyle is to go ahead at the West Belfast Festival, or Féile an Phobail, despite protests by a group who claimed the Scottish comedian has mocked children with disabilities.

The féile organisers and the protesters reached a compromise on Wednesday night with the festival expressing a degree of contrition and the protesters still unhappy the show is going on but expressing satisfaction that it has raised consciousness about “the most vulnerable within society”.

Boyle’s appearance is one of the headline shows of the festival. He is appearing in the marquee in the Falls Park on Friday of next week in a show that has already sold more than 2,000 tickets.

Notwithstanding the controversy over comments Boyle previously made about children with Down syndrome his show has been the “fastest selling comedy event” ever staged by the féile.

The protest group calling itself Féile for All which was supported by former Sinn Féin lord mayor of Belfast Tom Hartley, whose brother Stephen has Down’s syndrome, wanted the Boyle show to be cancelled.

Mr Hartley, a long-standing supporter of the féile, told the Belfast Telegraph last week that booking Boyle posed ethical questions for the festival. He said there was a “fine line between freedom of speech and the rights of those with disabilities and Down syndrome”.

“Would, for instance, you invite a comedian that was homophobic, a comedian that was racist? I don’t think so. I think Feile will sort this out; they are people with an ethical view of the world,” he added.

The criticism of Boyle was over a routine he performed in Reading in England in 2010 that featured references to children with Down syndrome. Boyle has appeared twice in Belfast since then without any protests, but not at the publicly-funded Feile.

Following a week of negotiations a compromise was reached with festival organisers and Féile for All issuing separate agreed statements on Wednesday night.

Féile said it took the “criticism extremely seriously”, and they it completely appreciated that there has been a “deep sense of hurt caused with the booking”.

“Féile an Phobail finds the mocking of the disabled totally unacceptable,” it added. “There was also an undertaking by Féile management to represent the concerns of the group to Frankie Boyle’s management.

“Both parties are acutely aware of the difficulties that the event has created, and are committed to working together in future to ensure that Féile an Phobail remains fully inclusive and can be enjoyed in its fullest by all sections of the community.”

The Féile for All group said it “felt real and deep hurt” by Boyle’s comments and “felt that féile, by extension were condoning the same, contrary to their ethos of inclusivity”.

“Attacks on the disabled, either verbal or physical, will always be wrong. While the gig will continue on this occasion, we remain firmly opposed to this act appearing at our festival. We believe, however, that we have run an extremely successful campaign,” it added.

“We have raised the issue of attacks on the most vulnerable within society as being unacceptable and created awareness of disability issues generally.”

It thanked those who supported the protests while adding: “But most of all we would like to acknowledge and thank our children, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles with special needs for enriching our lives and our community so much by their mere presence in it.”

The Irish Times put questions to Boyle’s management about the matter on Tuesday but so far no response has been forthcoming.

Boyle previously tweeted about the show saying: “I’m doing a gig in Belfast. It’s going to be a f…ing belter too”.