MCCartney talks of St Patrick’s Day in the Assembly

Motion: This Assembly calls on Her Majesty’s Government to proclaim each year St Patrick’s Day a public holiday in Northern Ireland

Proposing the Motion

“Thank you, Mr Speaker.

First of all, I would like to explain to the Assembly the form of words that are required for this motion.”

“Under the current constitutional arrangements, the creation of public holidays remains a direct responsibility of the British Government.”

“Therefore, it is not possible for this Assembly itself to take a decision on this matter. “

“The only course of action open to us is to directly lobby the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. “

“And to hope that An Taoiseach and the Irish Government can also use their good offices to achieve the desired result.”

“Most of the work of this Assembly naturally focuses on the areas over which it has direct legislative responsibility. “

“However, it can also play an important representative role, in providing the authoritative voice of the people of Northern Ireland to other levels of government.”

“So why should this Assembly push for St. Patrick’s Day to be made a public holiday?”

“Put simply, St. Patrick’s Day is an important day for people right across the community in Northern Ireland.”

“It celebrates the man who is historically associated with bringing Christianity to Ireland. His importance is recognised by both Protestants and Catholics.”

“However, St. Patrick’s Day is also significant in a number of non-religious respects. Throughout Ireland and around the world, St. Patrick’s Day is regarded as Ireland’s national day, and as the focal point for Irish people both at home, and abroad through the diaspora.”

“In Northern Ireland, we have parades in many towns. Many pubs serve Green Guinness. “

“And significantly, it is the day on which the finals of School’s Cups in Rugby, Soccer, and Gaelic Football are played.”

“Internationally, St. Patrick’s Day is an even bigger event in some parts of the world, especially those with large populations of those of Irish descent.”

“One of biggest annual parades in the world is the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. This is a ritual repeated in many other American towns and cities.”

“The St. Patrick’s Day pilgrimage to the White House is now a required attendance for the leading politicians in Ireland, north and south.”

“Surely it is somewhat strange that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated much more intensely internationally than at home.”

“And that St. Patrick’s Day remains only a Bank Holiday, not a Public Holiday in Northern Ireland.”

“There is another set of reasons as to why St. Patrick’s Day should be made a public holiday.”

“As I have explained St. Patrick’s Day is something that unites all sides of the community in Northern Ireland.”

“This is something we should cherish and promote in what is otherwise a deeply divided society.”

“The Good Friday Agreement seems to be built on a vision of two separate but equal communities working together in mutual respect.”

“This is not a vision that I or my party colleagues would necessarily want to buy into.”

“Not only does it ignore the much greater pluralism that already exists in Northern Ireland society, but it does not sufficiently encourage the emergence of common bonds and identities among our people.”

“This is something that should concern not just us liberals but everyone in this society.”

“For unless, the things that unite society common to predominate over those that divide it, it will be all too easy for society to be torn apart sometime in the future.”

“Notably, Unionists remained wedded to their goal of maintaining the Union with Great Britain, while Nationalists continue to aspire to a united Ireland. And both believe they can achieve this through the Good Friday Agreement.”

“To counter this danger, we need to develop a stronger sense of common regional identity among our people.”

“This should draw upon, reflect and respect the diversity of cultural traditions right across our society. It cannot and must not be based exclusively one or other of the two main political and religious tradition that dominate at present.”

“This theme of promoting what the people of Northern Ireland hold in common is one that the Secretary of State himself visited in the speech that he made to Institute of Irish Studies in Liverpool, last Friday evening.”

“He stated that he wanted to see a Northern Ireland with two self-assured traditions, but one body of citizens, united by “shared language, shared values and shared land, with bonds that are strong enough to encompass diversity of religion, of politics and of custom”.”

“He cautioned against outsider trying to impose this, but recognised that within the institutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland people and representatives can help to shape the values, identities and symbols of society.”

“We are now in a position to do this by speaking collectively with one voice. A call from this Assembly to make St. Patrick’s Day a public holiday could be an important first step in trying to increase the common regional bonds among our people.”

“However, it is important that we aware that not every citizen in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland is Christian. Many are non-practising or secular, others come from different faith backgrounds.”

“While it may be appropriate to base some of the common regional symbols for Northern Ireland around our common Christian heritage, it is vitally important that we don’t base our these exclusively around it.”

“Ideally, what we should aspire to is the creation of a common regional identity that is primarily civic and multicultural in nature. However, it should be possible to celebrate the common Christian heritage of the overwhelming number of people in Northern Ireland as part of this.”

“From what I have said before, it is important that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in an inclusive manner.”

“We only have to look to the example of the parade in Belfast to see the strong reactions and counter-reactions that can develop when a parade is not inclusive or perceived to be inclusive. “

“It is very wrong for any group of society to try to misappropriate or associate St. Patrick with any sectional political cause.”

“As far as I am aware St. Patrick was neither a Unionist nor a Nationalist, nor for that matter a card carrying member of the Alliance Party. Probably, the only Union, on which he had any opinions, was the Roman Empire.”

“All people in Northern Ireland, Unionist, Nationalist, and those of us from the centre should be able to associate it with in comfort. It should be open to those from all religious backgrounds, Christian or non-Christian, and none.”

“Mr Speaker, this Assembly has the opportunity to send a number of important messages with this motion to make St. Patrick’s Day a public holiday. I commend it to the House.”


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