Court dismisses case because there were too few present who were likely to be offended?

Interesting judgement yesterday…

A small group of around 15 nationalist protesters was said to have been gathered nearby. However, the defendants’ lawyer argued that the band was playing Sloop John B, the Beach Boys’ song which has the same tune.
After hearing evidence the district judge made no ruling on whether or not it was the Famine Song being played.
But it was decided that the prosecution had failed to establish there was an intention to provoke a breach of the peace.
The verdict also took into account the likelihood of such an outcome given the number of protestors at the scene.
On that basis all 11 defendants were acquitted.

Two of the chief political spokesmen to this ongoing north Belfast ‘domestic dispute’ were for once united….

Mr Kelly said: “Clearly these breaches of determinations should be dealt with in a consistent manner”.

Mr McCausland, a member of the Orange Order, said: “People will question how these outcomes are arrived at and how the evidence is judged.

“Such inconsistency is not good and undermines confidence in the legal process.”

Maybe. And then again a less kind observer might suggest that if there had been more consisted handling of this dispute by said gentlemen there might not have been a court case in the first place.

All these cases amount to a court adjudication on legal right ‘to offend’ or ‘not to be offended’. Not the most edifying use of politic energies I suppose, or indeed the most productive for the voters of north Belfast.

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  • Morpheus

    The Beach Boys? “Ignorant of the Parades Commission ruling”?


    What a bunch of cowards – big and bad on the day then crying like little girls in front of the judge. Quelle surprise.

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    Morpheus your Quite right, they acted just like provo terrorists caught in the act or when being taken on by the security forces.

    Even to this day when a provo was shot going to murder with bomb or gun there are plenty in the shinners bemoaning how they met their end.

    Then we have other senior republicans who cry like a baby when accused of being in the provos or have the date they allegedly left the provos.

  • Morpheus

    That’s the spirit AU, a thread about bands’men’ and we are straight onto republicans and shinners 🙂

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    That’s the spirit Morph they were found not guilty and you are again demonizing the bands men, like a good republican.

  • Morpheus

    Republican? That would be a no but I don’t need to be a republican to appreciate the cowardice in the beach boys a ‘I was ignorant of the parades commission ruling, honst injun’ your honour’ defense.

    They are a shame on the hundreds of bansdmen from all over NI who don’t feel the need to behave like complete moronic idiots.

  • DC

    Or maybe likely to be *genuinely* offended as opposed to politically motivated manufactured offence.

  • Morpheus

    “The famine is over, why don’t you go home”

    …outside a church. Let’s just say it doesn’t take much political motivation to get offended at disgusting scenes like this:

    And we all have a full summer of it to look forward to…again…oh joy.

  • DC

    Morpheus sorry but that clip is the Beach Boys tune.

    This is the offensive song –

    Your clip – Beach boys.
    The clip I have provided – famine song.

    Easy how they can get mixed up!

  • … the Beach Boys’ song?

    Only for those of limited horizons.

    The earliest recorded version (that I have heard of) was published in 1916 by the Liverpudlian-born Richard le Gaillienne. Carl Sandburg (of whom a few here may have heard) included it in his American Songbag in 1927. Sandburg reckoned his source (John McCutchen of the Chicago Tribune) had identified the actual wreck in Nassau.

    Lee Hays of the Weavers polished up the Sandburg version, and you’ll find it on Decca ‎9-27332 (recorded 3 November 1950; issued December 1950). That in turn was picked up by Harry Belafonte in 1955 and the Kingston Trio (Guard, Shane, Reynolds) of 1958.

    Only in 1965 (recording of 22 December) did Brian Wilson get to molest a decent folk song.

    As for The Famine Song … that’s a different story.

  • Don’t get up. I’ll collect my anorak on the way out.

  • Morpheus

    Of couse it is DC, well done for proving the cowardice I mention earlier 🙂

  • DC

    Well I suppose if a judge can’t adjudicate on whether or not it was the famine song or Beach Boys who are we to say for sure one way or the other, kind of easy to see how we all end up in a bit of a bind, eh 😉

  • babyface finlayson

    “And we all have a full summer of it to look forward to…again…oh joy.”
    And presumably this decision provides a precedent for others to do so with impunity.
    Legally the judgement may be sound but the outcome for society is more conflict.

  • Comrade Stalin


    At approximately 1:25 or so in the (infamous) video posted by Morpheus bystanders can be heard singing the words from the Famine Song. Shortly after that point one of the bandsmen comes over and threatens the cameraman – it’s pretty obvious he knew what the song was.

  • Kevsterino

    I think that those who wish to cause offense will find new ways to do so as soon as ‘traditional’ methods are legislated against. Besides, as far as propaganda is concerned, it is an huge ‘own goal’ on the part of the loyalists. It portrays loyalism as nothing more than bigotry. It costs them more than they appear to know. Were I a Republican, I’d buy them a big new drum.

  • DC


    Perhaps they should be questioned as to whether letting lyrics like that past their lips could amount to an offence particularly in the face of those politically motivated other bystanders waiting to be offended?

  • I’m unsure about the grief being expressed here.

    If it’s that hate crime should be prosecuted to the full extent of the Law, I’m happy with that — even to the extent of “when one or two are gathered together”. The problem is that, often, such occasions come down to “He said … she said … they said.”

    If it’s “freedom of speech”, I’m with that, too. Provided that nobody else is offended, hurt or affronted. And, we can guarantee, on occasions such as this case, someone would be around to be mortally affronted, horribly hurt, and terribly offended.

    So we have to come down to what is presented to the Judge, on each and every occasion. The criteria might be unchanged and unchanging, but it may be a wee bit more difficult to be dogmatic about changing circumstances.

    I’m guessing that any judge would recognise Oliver Wendell Holmes, delivering the unanimous judgement in Schenck v. United States – 249 U.S. 47 (1919):

    The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree.

    That may have a peculiar relevance here, since the issue was why anti-conscription leaflets when the nation was at war were not “free speech” under the First Amendment rights.

    Is Northern Ireland in a state of war?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

    Apparently not….

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    What is the worst case scenario for the parading culture if it was agreed one day that playing tunes like this were deemed not to be in its best interests and for good measure bands also did away with paramilitary paraphernalia?

    If bands decided to ‘take a breather’ outside of chapels instead of playing up then what would the detrimental effects to the parade be?

    I’m trying to recall the parades of my younger days and can’t think of any disadvantages.

    I could be blinkered, left wing commie pinko Lundy that I am, but perhaps it MIGHT have no detrimental effect whatsoever.

    If someone could convince the powers that be that such measures are NOT to pacify Sinn Fein then what’s the problem?

    All cultures morph and evolve (bands included, compare a modern parade to those of a century ago).

  • aquifer

    When the power of paramilitary and sectarian groups depends on their ability to provoke over-reaction and illusions of persecution among their members, maybe the law is entitled to risk its reputation by treating provocateurs with kid gloves.

    At its discretion, and preferably for both ‘sides’ from time to time.

    Perps now know that the apparatus of identification arrest and prosecution is clearly in working order, whatever the guy in the wig says on the day.

  • GEF

    “The famine is over, why don’t you go home”

    Going back in time is more like it to try the type of spuds they eat in Ireland before the famine, so I bought a packet of “Lumper potatoes” recently in M&S. Boy they made lovely chips. Hope this farmer whether he is “Orange or Green” keeps growing them.

    “Antrim farmer revives Irish famine potato”

  • cynic2

    Isn’t it shackin when you cant get enough people to turn out so they can be offended

    Memo to Gerry. Must try harder

  • Morpheus

    Yes cynic, that’s the issue. Not that these bands’men’ felt the need to do this outside a place of worship to reaffirm their kulture and showed just how ‘brave’ they were when confronted with a judge.

  • cynic2


    Read the name.

    “Stupid is as stupid does”

    They are both sides of the one coin and as one judge once said “there is no Human Right not to be offended”

  • It might all go to show what really matters is what you do and where you do it:

    A man has been given a football banning order after singing an offensive song at a Celtic game.

    Michael Ryan, 33, was caught on camera singing the phrase “The IRA will set them free” along with other fans at the match.

    The court heard he sang those words instead of the real words “The Irishmen will set them free” at the Parkhead ground in Glasgow’s east end on October 7, 2012.

    Ryan pled guilty at Glasgow Sheriff Court to behaving in a way that was likely or would be likely to incite public disorder and was handed a seven month community payback order by sheriff Stuart Reid.

    The sheriff ordered that Ryan, from Castlemilk, Glasgow carry out 180 hours of unpaid work and be supervised throughout the seven months.

    The sheriff also gave Ryan a 32-month football banning order that he reduced from three years because of the guilty plea.

  • zep

    It is up to the prosecution to put their case and meet the requried standards. This reminds me of the guys acquitted for ‘waiting on a bus’ or similar at the Ardoyne, they had initially been charged with taking part in an illegal protest I think? I thought they were quite right to be acquitted. If you can remove the them-and-us local stuff from the picture for a minute, the last year or two has shown how difficult it is to legislate away problems like these, and how when it really, really comes down to it, the judiciary tend to do a good job of upholding freedoms (often after the PPS and PSNI have made a balls of it). Ultimately as new laws are brought in people will find new ways to circumvent them; our politicians would ultimately prefer to hand off our problems to the police as required, and preserve their vote.