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Why are Belfast rappers Kneecap challenging UK government?

Why are Belfast rappers Kneecap challenging UK government?
Why are Belfast rappers Kneecap challenging UK government? Copyright Justin Bettman/Getty Images
Copyright Justin Bettman/Getty Images
By David Mouriquand
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The West Belfast trio say they are challenging the UK government’s decision to revoke their arts council funding application. They claim that denying the grant discriminates against them on grounds of nationality and political opinion.

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West Belfast rappers Kneecap have been granted permission by Northern Ireland’s High Court to challenge a decision by the British government to block funding from a music promotion scheme. 

The Irish language artists were awarded a £15,000 grant under the Music Export Growth Scheme (MEGS), which was subsequently withdrawn by UK Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch. 

Badenoch had announced £1.6 million funding in February, to boost 67 artists from across the UK and support homegrown musical talent.

Kneecap stated that that despite their application being approved by the selection board, it was subsequently blocked by the British government. They claim that denying the grant discriminates against them on grounds of nationality and political opinion.

In February, they released a statement to X claiming they were being silenced by the UK government.

A spokesperson for Badenoch said at the time that the government did not want to fund “people that oppose the United Kingdom itself”. 

Legal proceedings against the “unlawful” decision were started, with Darragh Mackin of Phoenix Law, representing Kneecap, saying that the decision represented an attack on identity, freedom of expression and the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement.

“We’ve been granted permission to challenge the Secretary of States decision,” tha band posted on Instagram. “That means we have cleared the first legal hurdle and the Judge has ruled that the case is arguable with a reasonable prospect of success. The Secretary of State must now file evidence justifying their position.” 

A date for the High Court has been set for 14 November. 

Who are Kneecap?

Kneecap are two MCs, Móglaí Bap and Mo Chara, along with DJ Provaí.  

They quickly became an underground hit, earning praise from fellow rappers within the Irish hip-hop scene. 

Fond of merging Gaelic with English, balaclava-wearing satire with socially conscious lyrics, and plenty of drug and sex references, the band have been active since 2017.  

They have been labelled controversial because of their outspoken lyrics, use of Troubles-related imagery, and provocative merchandise. Most of all, they take rap back to its roots as being a music genre to voice opposition and challenge the establishment.  

The group previously claimed that their 2019 ‘Farewell to the Union’ tour poster had “pissed off the Tories”, explaining: “Once again the British government is trying to silence voices from west Belfast - once again it will fail!”.

The band exploded onto the worldwide musical scene this year, especially with the release of their second album ‘Fine Art’.

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Coinciding with the release of 'Fine Art', Kneecap placed stickers around the British Museum in London, claiming some of the exhibits there are "stolen from Ireland".

"Place would be empty only for the theft of everything they ‘discovered’..."

To cement their cultural dominance in 2024 is an upcoming biographical film about the band, which is due to hit theatres on 2 August.  

It premiered to wide acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.  

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