8 January 2004 Edition

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SDLP blocks St Patrick's Day Funding

Eoin Ó Broin

Eoin Ó Broin

An SDLP councillor has been accused of wrecking this year's St Patrick's Day Carnival after she broke ranks with her party to oppose Belfast City Council funding for the event. Carmel Hanna "did a solo run" — breaking with her own party colleagues and Sinn Féin — when she refused to support a motion that would have seen the council providing £50,000 funding for three events on 17 March of this year. With unionist and Alliance councillors also opposing the funding, the south Belfast SDLP councillor's decision turned out to be the crucial factor in ensuring that the funding proposal was lost.

Although the Council has agreed to provide £15,000 for a St Patrick's Day concert at the Waterfront Hall, this week's City Hall vote means that once again it will not be funding a city centre carnival or parade this year.

The decision is the Council's final word on the matter, and leaves Carnival supporters with no further recourse or appeal before the scheduled 17 March celebrations.

Amazingly, although further grants amounting to £15,000 are available to individual community groups, the terms of these subsidies dictate that the funds cannot be used for actual events. Instead, the council has specified that the money must be used exclusively for "education and awareness about St Patrick's Day" and that the maximum amount each group can access is limited to a mere £750.

Belfast City Council has never funded any St Patrick's Day parade or carnival. Carnival organiser Irene Sherry said "with her actions Carmel Hanna has robbed the people of Belfast of the opportunity to celebrate St Patrick's Day with a hugely successful city centre carnival.

"The motion put forward would have given everyone, regardless of their religious or political persuasion, the opportunity to celebrate St Patrick's Day through whichever one of the three events they wanted to support. The fact that every other nationalist councillor supported the motion and Carmel Hanna did not says it all."

Sinn Féin North Belfast Councillor Eoin Ó Broin also lashed Hanna's decision and had harsh words for one particular City Hall Committee.

"What is all the more galling about this decision," says O'Broin, "is that it was the recently created Good Relations Committee which refused to fund the carnival.

"Belfast will now be the only major city in Ireland and across the globe which will not host a major St. Patrick's Day event. This calls into question the very existence of the Good Relations Committee itself."

Meanwhile, expressing her wish that this year's St Patrick's Day carnival would not include the flying of the Tricolour, Hanna said this week that "I did not support the Sinn Féin motion because I think that we as civil leaders have to show leadership for the people of this city".

An Phoblacht
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