“This is an attack on artistic culture, an attack on the Good Friday Agreement and an attack on us.” Kneecap win High Court permission to challenge the UK government for blocking them from arts funding award

Kneecap, in New York, June 9, 2024
(Image credit: Justin Bettman/Getty Images)

Kneecap have secured permission to challenge the UK government in court over Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch's decision to block them from receiving an arts funding award. 

The West Belfast rap trio, vocal advocates for the unification of Ireland, had applied for the UK's Music Export Growth Scheme (MEGS) grant, funded by the UK's Department for Business and Trade and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, with support from the British Phonographic Industry, in order to offset costs of touring in the US. 

But in February, having had their application rubber-stamped, the grant was vetoed by intervention from the Conservative government, with Kemi Badenoch, Secretary of State for Business and Trade, telling the Irish Times newspaper, “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.”

Kneecap vowed to challenge the decision, stating “Once again the British government is trying to silence voices from West Belfast – once again it will fail!” Lawyers for the group claim that Badenoch's action discriminated against the trio on grounds of religious belief or political opinion, as well as racial grounds of nationality and ethnic origin.

Today in Belfast, Mr Justice Scoffield ruled that the band, rappers Mo Chara (Liam Óg Ó Hannaidh) and Móglaí Bap (Naoise Ó Cairealláin) plus DJ Próvaí (JJ Ó Dochartaigh), can proceed with their legal battle, which will be set out at a court hearing on November 14.

Talking to the BBC following the court's judgement DJ Próvaí emphasised that the band's legal action was not motivated by money.

“This is an attack on artistic culture, an attack on the Good Friday Agreement and an attack on us and our way of expressing ourselves,” he said.

Talking recently to Louder about the legal challenge, Mo Chara said, "Because we pay [UK] taxes, we're entitled to apply for arts funding: the idea of a politician declaring that you can only make art if it's approving of the government is like something you'd hear from Vladimir Putin.

"The biggest political party in the North of Ireland," he added, "is Sinn Féin, a Republican party, so what we say in our music or in our interviews is actually mainstream political opinion where we're from, it's not like we're some mad extremists."

Kneecap’s solicitor Darragh Mackin welcomed the court decision, saying “The secretary of state has now conceded that she has a case to answer, and we welcome the court’s indication that this case will be heard early in the new term.”

Kneecap's debut album, Fine Art, was released last week.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.