Speaking this morning Naomi Long said, “Alliance believes that the decision for the Council to organise the St Patrick’s day Celebrations offers a unique opportunity, in Belfast’s Centenary Year, to have an inclusive outdoor event.
“In previous years, the St Patrick’s Day carnival Committee, an exclusively nationalist/republican organisation, organised the event and the result was that many people felt unwelcome or excluded. Some progress was made last year, but clearly Alliance wanted to go much further, and see an event over which the entire community felt ownership.
“By having the Council organise the event on behalf of everyone in the City, and applying the usual Council principles in respect of flags, emblems and football shirts, this year has the potential to be a totally different experience, and one at which everyone can feel comfortable. We in Alliance have worked extremely hard to bring this about.
“The message is clear that people sporting flags and football tops will not be admitted to Custom House Square for the concert — such rules operate successfully in other events and venues around the city all the time, and there is no reason why they can’t on this occasion. Ultimately, this year’s event is an opportunity to get St Patrick’s Day celebrations on the civic calendar, but if people don’t respect the rules on the day, then clearly future funding will be jeopardised.
“Unionist politicians supported this view in the Autumn and agreed to go down this route, but, yet again, when push came to shove, they rowed back from that position last night, and tried to block the money required to see the decision through.
“The best chance of this being a successful and inclusive event in the City is for Unionist politicians to show political leadership, reinvest their support in the event, and encourage their constituents to get involved. At this stage, the only chill-factor in this years event is the unionist parties’ cold feet.”