Published Monday, 07 October 2013
There are at least 640 loyalist bands in NI. (© PA)
There are almost 30,000 members of bands across the region and represent a growing movement, Quincey Dougan, promotional activist for the Ulster Band movement has said.
A report found that young band members believe they have been "demonised" by negative headlines in the press and a lack of understanding from nationalists.
Mr Dougan contributed a foreword to the 36-page report by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum on the Sons of Ulster, which aims to raise awareness of the band culture and its youngest members.
"This body is not going away anywhere soon. Like all aspects of our society that have controversial elements, it is incumbent on us all to make efforts to educate and understand as opposed to give uninformed blanket condemnation," Mr Dougan said.
"For the detractors of bands, it is not enough just to ask for explanation. You have to listen."
Thousands of band members make up at least 640 bands in Northern Ireland, the vast majority of which are involved in peaceful parades. A minority have caused controversy.
A video of the Young Conway Volunteers playing a sectarian song outside a Catholic Church in Belfast city centre on 12 July last year raised tensions.
But Mr Dougan blamed the media for associating bandsmen with paramilitarism, sectarianism and violence.
"In truth bands are about expressing identity, about celebrating heritage," he said.
"They educate their members and instill discipline. They perform a role uniting small communities, providing entertainment, opportunities to socialise, and most of all give something to motivate and to be proud of."
The report highlighted negative stereotyping but claimed young people saw bands as a way to reduce the level of anti-social behaviour and improve confidence and communication skills.
Mr Dougan said the Protestant, unionist and loyalist people have used marching bands as a way of expressing themselves, in keeping with the community's historical connections with the British military.
"In fact, its foundation in Ireland and its continual development here arguably gives it the right to call itself Irish traditional music, more so than any other musical genre," he added.
The report was formally launched at Stormont on Monday night with a band performance.
© UTV News