22 January 2004 Edition
St Patrick's Day Carnival will go on
A campaign has been launched to save this year's St Patrick's Day celebrations after Belfast City Council refused to fund the event for the eighth year in a row.
SDLP Councillor Carmel Hanna abstained from a crucial vote which would have seen the carnival approved for funding for the very first time. As a result, she managed to single-handedly lose the carnival up to of £20,000.
Hanna then went on to express her hope that this year's carnival would not include the flying of the Tricolour.
Undeterred by the Council's bigotry, the St Patrick's Day Carnival Committee held a public meeting of community leaders and relevant groups in West Belfast this past Monday, to discuss the action plan for the 2004 carnival.
West Belfast MP Gerry Adams was one of many who attended the meeting, an effort to bring together a wide spectrum of people interested in helping to organise this year's celebrations.
"It was very inspirational," said Committee Chairperson Irene Sherry after the meeting. "It really was heartwarming to see so many people from the community taking time out of their own schedules to show support for the carnival.
"It's given us hope, and we came away secure in the knowledge that this does matter to people, this is important. It is an issue of equality, of human rights, and we are not prepared to take this lying down. This is the biggest event to be staged in Belfast city centre yet it does not receive a penny of funding from the Council."
The Carnival Committee intends to move into high gear over the next seven weeks, and dedicated volunteers are already on the streets fundraising. The determined activists were spotted at Casement Park this past Sunday - during the clash between All-Ireland champions Tyrone and Antrim - handing out leaflets to the thousands who turned out and collecting donations.
So why is it that the second largest city in Ireland is unable to celebrate its Patron Saint?
"Unionists just don't want us celebrating St Patrick's Day outside City Hall," says Sherry angrily. "Both they and the Alliance Party don't want any show of 'Irishness' in the city centre. That's really what's behind it all.
"This isn't just an issue which affects people in Belfast but the whole of Ireland, and we hope people from all the different counties, or even further abroad, will show their support by coming to Belfast for the Carnival.
"We know it is unfair to go out with buckets and ask for donations, particularly at this time of year. But we have no other option. There is a real sense of urgency, as there are only 55 days left until St Patrick's Day, and we currently have only a small number of volunteers available to put on one of the largest events of the year.
"We need the help of the community sector, local businesses, and the people of the city. People of all ages can help, even in the smallest way, and we are humbled by the will of many to help out. Their support, commitment and enthusiasm can ensure that the carnival will continue to flourish and grow.
"We invite people everywhere to join with us in making this the biggest and best day Belfast has ever seen."
o Anyone who wishes to help can contact Irene Sherry at (02890) 743331 or (02890) 313440.