11 March 2004 Edition

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Funding crisis for St Patrick's Day celebrations

Belfast Council may say no but strong man Glenn Ross was on hand this week to show his support for the St. Patrick's Day carnival and its organiser, Irene Sherry

Belfast Council may say no but strong man Glenn Ross was on hand this week to show his support for the St. Patrick's Day carnival and its organiser, Irene Sherry

As An Phoblacht goes to press, Belfast St Patrick's Day organisers are warning that next week's celebrations — scheduled to take place outside City Hall — are in grave jeopardy after the Carnival was refused British Government funding.

The stunning announcement comes after an application for £27,000 to help stage the St.Patrick's Day concert was unceremoniously turned down by the Northern Ireland Events Company (NIEC). The NIEC claims that the funding application was submitted too late to be considered for approval.

Belfast City Council has also refused to offer any funding for the highly successful event.

Carnival Committee Chairperson Irene Sherry says the NIEC's rejection of the application has put the celebrations in jeopardy. "This year's application was submitted four weeks earlier than a similar application last year, which did get funding," she said.

"We had asked NIEC to judge the carnival not on political grounds, but on the fact that it brings tens of thousands of people into Belfast on St Patrick's Day for what is one of the city's top tourist attractions of the year."

Sherry confirmed that the Carnival Committee will be appealing the NIEC decision in a last-ditch effort to have the funding rejection reversed.

Carnival organisers have now been forced to intensify their efforts to raise the estimated £60,000 required to pay for this year's event.

"Over the next number of days we will be touring Belfast and the rest of the north of Ireland to ask people to dig deep in their pockets and give us whatever they can," says a determined Sherry.

"The St Patrick's Day Carnival is the biggest event on Belfast's calendar and it would be criminal if it could not go ahead this year."

Unionist bigotry runneth over

A special meeting of Belfast City Council last Friday called by Sinn Féin's 14 councillors in an effort to convince remaining councillors to reverse their earlier decision not to fund the Carnival failed amid displays of appaling bigotry.

During the heated emergency meeting on Friday 5 March, unionist councillors lobbed insults and bigoted remarks at Sinn Féin representatives and their constituents in an effort to demonise the St Patrick's Day Carnival as triumphalist and "sectarian".

At one point, Ulster Unionist Councillor Jim Rodgers actually made the outrageous claim that nationalists did not pay rates yet expected unlimited funding from City Hall.

"They (Sinn Féin) are law-breakers not law-makers. They want to take everything out of the coffers of the Council. These people do not even pay rates," sputtered Rodgers, in another glaring example of a primitive bigoted thinking that continues to permeate the unionist psyche.

The SDLP happily added their opinion — with Alban Maginness proudly proclaiming that he looked forward to the day when Tricolours were not flown at St Patrick's Day events and calling upon the Orange Order to take part in the celebrations.

So, even though a delegation of senior civil servants and officials from Tony Blair's Cabinet Office in London are among those expected to attend the St Patrick's Day Carnival next week, it appears unionist representatives will not be there to greet them.

The delegation will be visiting the North later this month as part of a programme to develop top management. Among the group will be officials from the Cabinet Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, West Mercia Constabulary, the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Last week, St Patrick's Day campaigners overcame a unionist bid to deny the use of changing facilities in City Hall to international pop stars Girls Aloud. The all-girl group is one of the featured acts in the carnival concert and will be performing onstage outside City Hall.

Sherry also announced that the Meningitis Research Foundation will be holding a fundraising event as an additional part of the celebrations. The event will feature Glenn Ross, the current "UK Strongest Man". Ross will be on hand to life three family size cars in aid of meningitis research.

St Patrick's Day campaigners have also launched "The World Is Watching" poster, which contains messages of support from all over the world.

"Equal resources for equal communities," reads one comment.

"The decision by unionist councillors to deny funding, gives an image around the world of narrow minded bigotry and bias against one side of the community," reads another. "Can you not see that?"

"It's celebrated in New York, Sydney, London and Dublin," says a third, "So why not Belfast?"

With only a week to go before the celebrations, its not too late to contribute. Donations and volunteers are still urgently needed.

• The St Patrick's Day Carnival Committee can be contacted at (02890) 743331.


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