A major row has broken out on the issue of flags in the St Patrick Parade. Downpatrick Sinn Féin Councillor Eamonn Mac Con Midhe explained nationalists felt rejected because the Irish flag was not allowed to be flown in the parade and instead a red and white St Patrick’s Day flag is traditionally flown.
Councillor Mac ConMidhe said, “It was agreed that this be discussed in the Good Relations Committee of Down District Council. Council had agreed to do away with the red and white flag and introduce another flag more suitable for marketing the parade.
However, this has not been implemented, there has been a delay in this decision, and I blame the SDLP and Unionists for taking a position on this. I don’t think it suited them to change the flag. It is just hypocrisy. Any person from across the world can come to the St Patrick Parade and fly their flag.”
Councillor Mac Con Midhe added, “It just seems that genuine nationalists are being treated unfairly. All we ask for is our national flag to be allowed to be flown in the parade.”
The cross-community parade has up until now been free from controversy while the red and white flag had been adopted. Councillor Mac Con Midhe now feels that nationalists are offended by the flag as he claims it has associations with the Protestant Ascendency.
“I will simply be bringing my own Tricolour along on St Patrick’s Day and will be at the head of the parade. I will encourage everyone else to bring along their flags too. Even Loyalist bands have paraded in Downpatrick with their colours and flags? All we are asking is to fly our national flag on our saint’s day.”
However, an angry DUP Councillor Billy Walker has responded taking a strong position opposing Councillor Mac Con Midhe’s claim saying that the DUP will be pulling out of the Good Relations Committee at Down District Council.
He added, “I am disgusted with Councillor Mac Con Midhe statyements. Heis encouraging people to insensitively fly tricolours in the parade. Tears ago people did fly tricolours in the parade but unionists were uncomfortable with this and felt alienated.
“But Down District Counci pulled out all the stops and managed this diffficulty and new red and white flags were adopted along with the Council flag. The parade and festival then became properly cross-community. Now Councillor Mac Con Midhe is going to turn the clock back 25 years. He is going solo on this. I don’t believe that his party would approve of his position. They need to reign him in. He is driving a wedge between the communities.
“Sadly, he may well succeed in encouraging people to bring along triclours and fly one himself. Unionists have altready said to me that if that is to
happenthen they will keep away from the festival parade. He is just going to unravel all th egood work that has been done over the years.
“The Council’s Good Relations Committee is now dead on the water. It is chaired by Green Party Councillor Cadogan Enright who seems to have allowed this situation to evolve. I have spoken to him will to him to tell him that the DUP has withdrawn from the Good Relations Committee in protest. The next Council after the election can sort this out. It’s a disgrace. Unionists who supported the Green party in the last election need to consider their position in the coming election.”
Green Party Councillor Cadogan Enright, the Good Relations Committee Chairman, responded saying that “Following this outbreak of sectarian rancour in the local press, we find years of community development work on the St Patrick’s Parade at risk, and a wonderful family day marred by an out-break of old-fashioned tribalism that has the potential to damage the local economy.
“In the pit of the recession, when our A&E unit is under threat, the four major parties in Down District are fighting over flags and imperilling the cross-community nature of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in the run up to a local election on 5th May. This is a disgrace.
“I would publicly appeal to Eamonn McCon Midhe to leave his flags at home, and to Billy Walker to undo both his threats to both withdraw cooperation from the Good Relations Committee and against myself as its Chair.
“I appeal to the SDLP and the UUP to stay out of the media on this issue as we have all previously agreed.
“I suggest we put these matters aside, and after the elections in 8 week’s time go back to working quietly together for the benefit of all the community.
In the meantime, lets hope for the sun shines next Thursday and that it will be another great family day, and I wish everyone a happy St Patricks Day.”
(See Councillor Cadogan Enright’s full response in a letter sent to Down News. )
Down District Council Chairman Eamonn O’Neill said he was “disappointed” that this issue had emerged just before the St Patrick Festival. He said, “This is a great day of celebration. The event is very well organised and has been extremely successful and even growing in popularity over the past 25 years.
“The parade itself is cross-community, and an unbeliveable amount of good work in the community goes into its organisation. St Patrick’s Day will be a good day and we have no major concerns about the parade event.
Councillor Robert Burgess speaking on Councillor Mac Com Midhe’s comments said, “We have to move ahead from the dark days of the past. I am just disgusted that the St Patrick parade which is cross-community can be drawn into the pre-election politics of Sinn Féin. So many people from all sides of the community have worked hard to make this festival the great success it is today.
“All of this good work could be undone but such comments. If you look at what Newry has done in terms of communities working together, it is impressive. This is just a retrograde step and well seen that the election is just around the corner. When the businesses of Downpatrick have had such a difficult time, we should not make things any more difficult for them. The St Patrick’s Festival brings a lot of trade into the area and we need to remember that. This matter can be discussed sensibly at Council level.”