18 March 2006

Unionists in a flap over flags

Belfast Telegraph

By Jonathan McCambridge
18 March 2006

Unionists last night said the St Patrick's Day celebrations in Belfast were "intimidatory" because of the waving of Irish tricolour flags.

For the first time, the Belfast parade from the City Hall to Custom House Square was funded by the council, which had attempted to ensure that tricolours were not paraded.

But both the DUP and UUP claimed protestant constituents left the celebrations because they felt they were intimidatory, casting doubt on future council funding of the event.

UUP MLA Michael Copeland said the event had proven "unwelcoming" to unionists.

"Commemorations of St Patrick in Northern Ireland should reflect the fact that his legacy belongs to all the people of Northern Ireland, both protestant and catholic," he said.

"Unfortunately St Patrick's day celebrations in Belfast have one again proved to be for one side of the community only.

"Many of my constituents who ventured to the celebrations did not stay long. They felt uncomfortable and unwelcome. The sheer number of tricolours and the strong nationalist look and feel to the parade rule out any sense of a cross-community event."

DUP representative Diane Dodds said the St Patrick celebrations were "another disappointment".

She added: "There were not that many people at the concert but there were plenty of republican flags and it seems that for republicans it is simply an excuse to wave Irish tricolours in the city centre.

"It would be good to have a cross-community event in the city, one where unionists and nationalists can feel safe, but it is clear that republicans cannot cope with that."

But SDLP deputy Lord Mayor Pat Convery said he thought yesterday's parade had been a "small step forward" for a divided city.

"We hope that the diversity of our city will be able to be included in this parade and concert," he said. "We hope we will be able to generate a lot of interest in this new event every year."

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