AP front 1 - 2022

4 February 1999 Edition

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Unionists try to censor St. Patrick festivities

By Mary Maguire

The Belfast St. Patrick's Carnival will go ahead, despite a concerted effort by unionists and elements of the SDLP to torpedo what was designed to be an inclusive and cross-community day of festivities. A national and international appeal to Irish people throughout the world to help secure the funding needed is underway.

Speaking at the launch of the Carnival, Caitríona Ruane, Joint Chair of the Carnival Committee said: ``From the beginning, unionists have tried to undermine the event and when they failed to do so, they ran to the press and made all sorts of allegations... They continued right through. Finally, they succeeded in withdrawing vital funding.''

On Friday, only seven weeks before the major event, Belfast City Council decided to withdraw £50 000 of vital financial support. This followed a move by DUP councillor Sammy Wilson, supported by the PUP's Billy Hutchinson, to withdraw financial backing. As the differences came to focus on the issue of flags, the organisers promoted a neutral, blue smiley-faced flag printed in Irish, Ulster Scots, English and Chinese.

As the controversy spread, SDLP Alex Attwood proposed a motion attempting to make St. Patrick's flag the official banner. In other words, a loyalist flag, offensive to a majority of the nationalist people was offered as the official flag of the event. This flag is currently used in the emblem for the British Army's Irish Guards.

Alex Attwood's amendment also attempted to ensure that there could be no display of the Irish national flag in Belfast on St Patrick's day. The SDLP's abstention from the final vote allowed unionists to formally copper-fasten the withdrawal of vital funding.

Caitríona Ruane also outlined the impossibility of enforcing any ban. ``We tried at all times not to politicise this event. We compromised on many issues. And we don't want this to be reduced to a discussion about flags. Unfortunately, it has become a political issue, so I have to deal with flags. Some people wanted us to ban the tricolour. If we have learnt anything in Belfast over the last 30 years, it is that if you attempt to ban something, you have millions of them. What we did was to go out of our way to ensure we had an inclusive event where all flags are welcome.

``The DUP want us to put a ban on the Tricolour, and we won't do that. The days of censorship in Belfast are over'', she added. Despite the unionist sectarian show-off, backed by some elements of the SDLP, the smile on the organisational Committee's face has not faded. Caitríona Ruane concluded: ``This is everyone's city and therefore where everyone's rights and culture are to be respected. Our events will do that. We are calling on all to join with us and make this the biggest and best celebration we have ever had.''

To show your support, make a donation:

St. Patrick's Carnival Committee
Bank of Ireland
Donegal Place
Account number 492 436 52
Sort code 90-21-27

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1