SOUTH Down MLA and Down District Councillor Jim Wells has hit back at Sinn Féin’s recent statement over the flags row in the St Patrick’s Parade after Sinn Féin decided to carry the Irish flag outside established Council’s agreement and tradition. Mr Wells said, ‘McConvey’s wreckless stunt must never be allowed to happen again.
“Last Thursday, media attention focused on the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Downpatrick, but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. Instead of the usual low key coverage of the a cross community family day out all eyes were on the wreckless stunt undertaken by Sinn Fein’s Councillor Eamon McConvery.
“This incident had nothing to do with March 17th and everything to do with May 5th. The flying of such a large tricolour at the front of the parade was a cynical ploy to encourage hardline nationalists to vote Sinn Fein at the forthcoming elections to Down Council and Stormont. I have no doubt that this blatant coat – trailing will indeed lead to an increase in McConvery’s vote but this will be at a high price, the significant damage to community relations in Down District.
“I feel sorry for the staff of Down District Council. They have worked tirelessly for 25 years to create a St Patrick’s Day parade where the entire community felt welcome. How Northern Ireland celebrates the life of our patron saint has always been a very difficult issue which has created controversy from Londonderry to Newry. Down Council had uniquely solved this long standing problem only to see their efforts severely damaged by one irresponsible councillor on a solo run.
“Why were Sinn Fein councillors more than happy to march behind the flag of Saint Patrick for a quarter of a century without a single word of protest ? Indeed when Willie Clarke was Chairman of the Council he actually led the parade surrounded by flags which we are now told are unacceptable. I must also ask why the ‘subversive’ nature of this flag was only discovered a leading academic a few weeks before the crucial elections?
“It was also very noticeable that Micky Coogan and Willie Clarke were both clearly very uneasy with their colleague’s conduct. There were no ringing endorsements of his decision to create so much offence. Councillor Clarke could have declared that he was 100% behind his colleague but he was very careful to distance himself from the decision to fly the tricolour.
“Many Down residents will also want to know why councillor McConvery suddenly took a vow of silence when approached by the media in the days leading up to the parade? Could it be that even the Sinn Fein headquarter staff in Connolly House realized that the stunt was a public realtions disaster for the party and told their turbulent councillor to shut up?
“It is known that 200 pupils from seven schools, a vintage vehicle club and at least one band decided not to take part in the parade because of McConvey’s decision, and there was a clear lack of representatives from the Unionist community amongst the spectators. The media interviewed vsitors to the town to find out their views on the tricolour flying stunt but what really matters are the opinions of the many people who did not turn up at all on March 17th.
“I have no doubt that had it not been for the intransigence of one loose cannon councillor this problem could have been solved long before 17th March and it is vital that all responsible public representatives get round the table as soon as possible to repair the damage to Down District’s image”.