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25 March 2004 Edition

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Belfast St Patrick's Day celebrations the biggest yet

A section of the crowd

A section of the crowd

Due to the hard work of organisers and the generousity and support of the public, this year's St Patrick's Day celebrations in Belfast city centre have been hailed as "the biggest yet".

Nearly 30,000 people turned out to enjoy the St Patrick's Day concert held outside Belfast City Hall last Wednesday. The line-up included international recording stars Girls Aloud, Wot Next and former Pogues frontman, Shane MacGowan.

Revellers of all ages arrived at City Hall dressed in colourful green clothing, oversized novelty hats and carrying banners and placards of welcome. Smiles and goodwill abounded as the crowd joyfully danced about and sang along with those performing onstage.

Carnival Committee Chairperson Irene Sherry said everybody involved in the celebrations deserved thanks and praise for their efforts.

She thanked the people of Belfast for their generousity. "Over the last two months we raised a considerable sum of money in Belfast and elsewhere. This money ensured that we had a tremendous carnival.

"I also want to thank the thousands of people who attended the carnival. Their presence and their fun-loving spirit helped to make the day a huge success."

In order to stage the festivities, the St Patrick's Day Carnival Committee had been forced to appeal to the public for donations after Belfast City Council refused to fund the hugely successful event for the eighth year in a row.

Despite the funding crisis, the celebrations were first rate and plans are already in the works for next year.

In the meantime, carnival organisers have hit out at sections of the media and unionist politicians who attempted to marr the day's festivities by blaming the Carnival for some trouble that broke out after the event.

Around 4pm, a group of youths overturned vendors' stalls in the Castle Court shopping centre, and an hour later the PSNI were called to an incident at Donegall Place during which a PSNI officer was hit with a broken bottle. Three people were arrested.

Later that night, there was a disturbance in the Peter's Hill area of the Lower Shankill, but no arrests were made and no injuries were reported.

Opponents of the St Patrick's Day celebrations were quick to blame the Carnival as the reason for the trouble, but Carnival organisers said the complaints were clearly politically motivated.

"We will be reviewing all aspects of the concert," says Sherry. "Those people who were responsible for causing offence to others after the carnival are not welcome at our events.

"But you cannot blame the St Patrick's Day Carnival Committee for something that happened two hours after the concert and nowhere near our venue.

"Obviously there are people who never wanted the event to happen in the first place and have continually tried to destroy the goodness that happened in Belfast City Centre.

"However, between noon and 4 pm on St Patrick's day there was not one incident in Belfast City Centre. After the event there was one at Castle Court and even the PSNI has said that they and our stewards moved in immediately to stop it.

"The accusations coming from unionist sources seem to smack of sour grapes. Despite their best efforts to stop the carnival, tens of thousands of people enjoyed a great event."

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