6 January 2000 Edition

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Unionists block St Patrick's Day Carnival

Sinn Féin President and West Belfast MP Gerry Adams has described the decision taken by Belfast City Council on Tuesday 4 January to refuse funding to the St Patrick's Day Carnival Committee as ``a step back to the dark days of unionist misrule and domination''.

     
  The most effective response people can give to the bigots who hold to their anti-Irish positions is to ensure that this year's St Patrick's Day celebration is the biggest and best yet  
Gerry Adams

Belfast Council decided for the second year running not to fund a parade organised by the St Patrick's Day Carnival Committee, despite the fact that the organisers brought up to 80,000 people to Belfast city centre in both 1998 and 1999. Unionists on Belfast City Council refused to fund last year's festival, insisting that the parade did not have cross community appeal. Then in December last, Belfast City Council's Development Committee voted against funding the carnival for the year 2000.

At the time of December's vote, applications for funding had been received from the St Patrick's Day Carnival Committee, organisers of the previous year's events, and the unionist St Patrick's Day Heritage Association, which was fronted by Nelson McCausland and Lee Reynolds. This group was seen as a red herring whose only aim was to block the Carnival Committee from getting funding. The original proposal not to fund the carnival was backed by five unionist councillors, with three Sinn Féin members voting against and the SDLP abstaining.

It was announced on the afternoon of Tuesday 4 January that Sinn Féin councillors would that night attempt to overturn the decision taken by the Development Committee. However, when the vote was taken, the balance of power was held by the Alliance Party, whose members voted against the carnival.

Gerry Adams slammed the decision as blatant sectarianism, saying: ``It is a throwback to the worst days of unionist misrule and domination in Belfast City Hall. It breaches the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and the positive political positions on equality and recognition of nationalist rights articulated by senior unionists during the last round of negotiations.''

Speaking to An Phoblacht, Caitríona Ruane of the St Patrick's Day Carnival Committee said: ``This decision is a disgrace. It is plain to see that Belfast City Council is organising anti-Irish discrimination. All elements of unionism have consistently tried to stop this parade despite it running successfully for two years.''

She, however, pointed out that they will not stop the carnival from going ahead. ``We are determined to make this year's celebrations the best ever. We have already devised a fund-raising strategy which will involve door-to-door collections all over Belfast and various fund-raising events. We will also be asking businesses to make donations to the carnival.''

Ruane said that the organisers have been in contact with their lawyers and are due to have a meeting with them on Thursday 5 January in order to work out a legal strategy. The organisers also intend to ask the Dublin government to fund the event.

Meanwhile, An Phoblacht has learned that Lee Reynolds and Nelson McCausland of the unionist St Patrick's Day Heritage Association are saying that they will not now be holding a parade. This announcement highlights what nationalists have known all along, that the whole strategy of the Heritage Association has been to stop any St Patrick's Day Parade from taking place at all.

Gerry Adams has called for the ``widest possible public political and financial support for the St Patrick's Day Carnival Committee. ``The most effective response people can give to the bigots who hold to their anti-Irish positions is to ensure that this year's St Patrick's Day celebration is the biggest and best yet''.

Anyone who wishes to make donations to help the St Patrick's Day Carnival Committee should send them to: Bank of Ireland, Donegall Place, Belfast, BT5 BX, Account number 49243652.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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