The steering group organising the St.Patricks Day parade have confirmed start times and route for the parade. The parade will assemble on the CBS all weather pitch at Greenpark at 2.00pm.It will be a 2.30pm start and the parade will make its way on the Keady Road to Irish Street Corner. Making its way down Ogle St- Thomas St-Market St- English St to the Shambles and along the Cathedral Road where it will disperse at Sherry Sports Complex. There has been a great interest shown by the community in the parade with local sports clubs , community based projects and local businesses contributing and participating. The organisers have stressed that this will be an inclusive parade something that was stressed in their press release. Responding to an article released by Cllr. Jim Speers the groups spokesperson Stephen Fields responded saying:
“Cllr Jim Speers call for a united St. Patricks Day Parade does little to resolve the issue that Armagh City Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council (ABC council) has created. Unity is perhaps something that he should have brought to the attention on the council before it decided to move the St. Patricks Day parade to a different date. In a lengthy statement Cllr. Speers completely ignores the genuine frustration felt by a sizable section of the community. He places the onus on the organisers of the community-based St. Patricks’ Day parade to get in behind the council while at the same time absolving the council of any fault in this debacle. But to give credit were credit is due at least Cllr. Speers has given some response. The council that he is so passionately defending, has yet to reply to a request by the West Armagh Consortium, sent in the form of a letter to its chief executive asking a number of relevant questions.
So perhaps given his claim to have passionately outlined his view during the delivery of the report to the council that presumably was the basis of the councils’ decision perhaps Cllr, Speers could answer some of the questions posed.
- How were the recommendations contained within this report arrived at?
- Reports indicate that there was a consultation carried out. How inclusive was this consultation?
- What was the questions asked?
- What was the rationale used to justify the consultation in the first place?
- Who in council initially proposed the change of date?
- How many groups/ individuals were consulted and what was their responses?
Could Cllr. Speers shed some light on other points, some that relate to comments from some of his unionist colleagues on ABC Council?
- It has been claimed that holding the parade on Sunday would impact on church goers. How so, what services would have been affected at scheduled time of the parade?
- How would holding it on Saturday prove a boost for local traders and how was this conclusion arrived at?
- Was this part of a consultation?
- Why would it have been a struggle for mainstream unionism to participate on Sunday?
- Again, was there any form of survey carried out by the compilers of the report to support this assertion?
Cllr Speers does be a bit more specific in that he questions a carnival type parade on Sunday, others have somewhat arrogantly suggested that people would be better off in church on Sunday than marching. He adds that this his own personal view. Is that view based on religious conviction or is it a general distaste for festive celebrations? However, and whatever the motivation, does that mean that it should also be the position of the ABC council and more widely the rest of the community? Cllr Speers tries to rubbish the comparing of Christmas Day to St. Patricks Day as a viable argument against changing the date. These are calendar dates that do not change, no matter how he dresses it up. It might carry some weight if we were arguing to hold the parade on the nearest Sunday to March 17th but that is not the case. The 17th March is the date no matter what day it falls on. He also goes on to mention the 12th July parades and that unionist’s do not walk on Sunday when the date coincides. His claim that some have used this as an argument is one that the group has not heard. However, unionism does march on Sundays. Commemorations marking the Battle of the Somme (Sometimes referred to as Drumcree Sunday) and Remembrance Sunday all take place on Sundays. And why shouldn’t they, Sunday is the recognised day for marking these events so it would be ridiculous to change them. Just as it is equally ridiculous to change the parade day for St. Patrick.
The issue of Sunday activities is not a new one to Armagh. During the tenure of the Armagh City and District Council unionist councillors tried to do exactly what is being done now. On that occasion the council was evenly split between the unionist and nationalist councillors and the attempt failed. It would appear that unionist councillors have bided their time and seized the opportunity now, given that the council make up in very much in their favour.
To continue, on one hand Cllr. Speers states that the council has worked extremely hard to develop the Armagh parade, while in the next instant threatening the community with a loss of the funding by claiming that a ‘divided approach’ will make it difficult to attract financial support. Therefore, it would appear that he is placing the responsibility of any possible loss of funding at the feet of the Sunday parade organisers. It is true that the council contributes substantially to the overall St. Patricks Festival of which their parade is a part. But is that not ratepayer’s money that is being used and are those of us who were not even consulted by the authors of the ‘report’, not ratepayers? If Cllr, Speers’s veiled threat regarding the loss of financial support does materialise then it will be because he and his colleagues on ABC council have opted to withhold it.
Since deciding to organise the St. Patricks’ Day Parade we have been informed by current and former participants in the parade, of the councils attempt to control the parade. Under the guise of inclusiveness, they had sought to exclude. Dictating what colours, shirt crests participants can wear, what flags they can carry and even on occasions what music bands can play. They have under this guise tried to reduce any sense of Irishness in the parade and even the bunting that has been used, at least up until now has at best been describe as dreary. Others have described it as 'something left over from an undertakers convention.’ (it is reported that there may be different bunting this year) This is the Emerald Isle so you would at least expect the colour to feature somewhere in there, but apparently not. The council appears very reluctant to use the recognised green and white colours associated with numerous St. Patrick Day events throughout world. People are wondering if ABC council would have the same reluctance to use these colours if it was to mark something else, say, an event for the Northern Ireland Football Team, whose colours are green and white. Others have simply asked why don’t they just use the football colours?
On a slightly different note the parade organisers would like to take this opportunity to refute scurrilous claims that we are involved in a boycott of the councils’ parade. Although it was not said in Cllr. Speers article we have heard reports that this view has been mooted. We believe this to be deliberate ‘false news’ as no-one involved in the organising of the community parade has asked any group or individual not to participate in the Saturday parade. The steering group is on record in saying that we wish the councils’ parade every success. We hope that those participating in the Saturday Parade will have an enjoyable time. We are not engaged in any form of boycott and have added that we would welcome anyone who is taking part in the Saturday parade to also come along and take part in the community St. Patricks Day Parade on the 17th, if they wish. They are more than welcome.
On a final note in replying to Cllr Speers, he uses the parades in New York and Chicago as in some way justifying the councils’ decision to change to Saturday. Why else would he mention them? The real question here is not The USA but why is it that Armagh is the only council area in the country that thinks that St. Patricks Day is better marked with a parade on the wrong day. Why is it the only area that feels that a St. Patricks’ Day parade held on Sunday, is divisive?
We would contend that it is not the community that is out of step with ABC Council, rather it is ABC Council who is out of step with the rest of the country and indeed, with very few exceptions, the rest of the world. We would urge Cllr Speers to use his influence to persuade the council to weigh in behind the community parade on the 17th and get in step with everyone else. He is welcome to attend the parade. It will be an inclusive event. He can wear whatever he wants and carry whatever flag he wants. As long as he comes in the spirit of celebrating St. Patrick and in the words of the song " There'll be a welcome here for him"