Kneecap: “Bringing the Tory government to court? You can’t put a price on that for PR”

After their access to arts funding was blocked by the UK’s Business Secretary, we spoke to Belfast trio Kneecap about the significance of financial support for artists, freedom of speech, and what happens next.

From having their forthcoming self-titled biopic receive rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, to being selected to play Texas’ annual industry showcase SXSW, Belfast rap trio Kneecap are gearing up for a busy year.

Recent publicity, however, has focused on something they probably didn’t have on their 2024 bingo cards - suing the British government’s Business and Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenoch, for blocking their access to £15,000 worth of funding.

The group (made up of Liam Óg Ó Hannaidh (otherwise known as Mo Chara), Naoise Ó Cairealláin (Móglaí Bap), and JJ Ó Dochartaigh (DJ Próvaí) were awarded the funding as part of the Music Export Growth Scheme - an independent, government-backed initiative which aims to help artists promote their work abroad, and is jointly-funded by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) alongside investment from the UK recorded music industry.

Speaking to DIY about how the funding could have helped them, Liam explains that it would have been used “to book more flights and a lot of accommodation. What that money would mean is that we probably would have finally made a profit off touring in America, [which doesn’t happen] unless you’re fucking super big because of the costs of getting around.

“It’s really hard to make money over there,” he continues. “And also because how fucking evil the system is in America, it costs you fucking $5000 for visas and stuff on top of that. So [the funding] would have alleviated all that pressure so we could have actually come home from America chubby, but with some money.”

Sharing a statement on X (fka Twitter) about the situation on 8th February, Kneecap wrote: “We’ve just been informed that our application to the ‘Music Export Growth Scheme’ (MEGS) was independently approved and signed off by selection board. It was then blocked directly by the British government who overruled the independent selection board.

“We’re told that our 2019 ‘Farewell To The Union’ Tour Poster pissed off the Tories. Once again the British government is trying to silence voices from West Belfast - once again it will fail!”

In the two weeks since, Kneecap have initiated legal proceedings against Ms Badenoch, whose spokesperson has responded by saying: “We fully support freedom of speech, but it’s hardly surprising that we don’t want to hand out UK taxpayers’ money to people that oppose the United Kingdom itself.”

Of his reaction to the furore, Liam says: “I was loving it. I thought it was brilliant, I thought it was perfect. Bringing the Tory government to court? You can’t put a price on that for PR. But also the quote that she gave was ‘why would we fund people who actually oppose the United Kingdom’,” he continues. “Obviously this isn’t a public fund from taxpayers. Surely anyone who doesn’t believe in the United Kingdom shouldn’t be taxed? People in Wales, the Scottish people, everyone in the north that oppose the United Kingdom and oppose the Royal Family shouldn’t be getting taxed by that logic.”

Naoise agrees, noting that blocking the funding on the basis of Kneecap’s political views undermines “what they call the parity of esteem - something that’s etched into the Good Friday Agreement, where people, nationalists and unions are allowed to express their opinions and their political opinions freely, and art comes under that banner.”

The situation has, predictably, proved a divisive issue online: while many have spoken out in support of Kneecap’s legal battle, pro-union commentators have backed Ms Badenoch’s decision. “It’s Stockholm syndrome,” JJ says, of the British people who seem riled up at the idea they would be given funding to begin with. “These people are being treated in the same way by the British government [as] we are and they’re being given pittance from this Tory government, who all have second houses and are landlords and own businesses and houses all over England.”

Keep your eyes peeled for the full Kneecap interview in our March 2024 print issue - coming soon.

Get tickets to watch Kneecap live now.

Tags: Kneecap, News

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