Daily Ireland

St Pat’s Day row goes to London

Belfast Lord Mayor Tom Ekin has been accused of “double standards” for agreeing to take part in the London St Patrick’s Day Carnival after voting to prevent the Belfast version receiving public funds.

On Friday last week, Belfast City Council rejected an application for a £30,000 grant by the St Patrick’s Day Carnival Committee to stage a March 17 concert outside City Hall. Mr Ekin, of the Alliance Party, was one of the councillors to oppose the funding.
One of the reasons given by the Lord Mayor for voting against the grant application was that he believed the amount of Irish national flags flown at previous St Patrick’s Day events had made Belfast city centre unwelcoming for unionists. Mr Ekin insisted that flags are a contentious issue and that only neutral emblems should be flown in Belfast on St Patrick’s Day.
However, what the St Patrick’s Day Carnival Committee is keen to point out is that the London carnival that the Belfast mayor will be attending on March 17 will be awash with tricolours.
Committee spokesman Conor Maskey said, “This is a clear case of double standards. The council is refusing to give us cash to put on a concert in Belfast because of, in part, the flag issue. However, it is prepared to pay for the Lord Mayor to travel to London on March 17 to parade behind a tricolour. It’s a ridiculous decision.”
Defending his London trip, Mr Ekin said St Patrick’s Day in the English capital was “very different” from celebrations in Belfast.
He said, “Most people in London don’t care about flags. People in Belfast definitely do. That is the big difference. When flags are flown in Belfast, they tend to bring trouble.
“I’m going to try and learn from my experience in London. I’ll see how they do it and take that knowledge back to Belfast.”
The London St Patrick’s Day Carnival is organised by the Council of Irish Counties. The group’s secretary, Maura Fitzsimons, said Irish county and provincial flags as well as the national flag will be flown at the event.
She added, “We get between 60,000 and 70,000 revellers each year. It is a real carnival day.”

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