Hopes high for St Pat’s Day funding

Hopes are rising that for the first time in its history Belfast City Council will fund an outdoor concert at the City Hall on St Patrick's Day.

The Council's powerful Policy and Resources Committee will decide whether to award the St Patrick's Day Carnival Committee an unprecedented funding package worth up to £30,000 for the planned March 17 event.

In recent years unionists, backed by the Alliance Party, have managed to stamp out every previous application for carnival cash.

But after a successful meeting last week between the Council's Good Relations Group and Carnival Committee members, hopes are rising that a 2005 City Hall concert will receive financial aid.

Unionists are again set to object to the latest funding proposals which are supported by Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

And commenting on the Good Relations meeting, which brought the funding issue to the fore, SDLP Councillor Carmel Hanna said that she plans to support the proposal for the £30,000 cash injection.

But she added that the issue will undoubtedly be hotly debated at the Policy and Resources Committee meeting on Friday, January 21.

Crucially, however, for the concert funding application to be rejected the unionist contingent need the support of the Alliance Party.

In previous years Alliance's three city councillors have sided with unionists.
However, after last week's Good Relations Group meeting there is renewed hope that Alliance will support the 2005 outdoor concert funding application. Alliance leader on the Council, Naomi Long, said the 2005 City Hall concert proposal looks much more attractive than it had in previous years.

"I've been impressed with how the Carnival Committee has tried to involve unionist groups this year," she said.

"They have met with unionist politicians and taken a positive approach to St Patrick's Day by attempting to make it more inclusive."

Sinn Féin councillor Michael Browne believes the Carnival Committee deserves to have its City Hall St Patrick's Day concert funded by the Council.

"It's an event that all the people of Belfast can take part in,” said Cllr Browne. “The Council should make the appropriate funds available. St Patrick's Day is for everyone - nationalist and unionist."

However, North Belfast DUP councillor Nelson McCausland insists unionists will oppose the concert getting any City Hall cash.

"Tricolours will be waved at this proposed concert," said Cllr McCausland. "It will be a cold house for unionists and as it is still not all-inclusive it must not get any local government funding."

Any decision taken on Friday by the Policy and Resources Committee regarding the Carnival Committee's funding application has to be ratified at the monthly meeting of Belfast City Council on February 1.

During the P&R meeting Belfast City Council will also discuss making the Waterfront Hall available for a St Patrick's Day BBC concert, as well as providing community groups with a small grants package.

Journalist:: Ciara McGuigan

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