I beg to move the following motion:
This Assembly calls on Her Majesty’s Government to proclaim each year St Patrick’s Day a public holiday in Northern Ireland.
I wish to explain to the Assembly the words of the motion. Unfortunately, under current constitutional arrangements, the declaring of public holidays remains a responsibility of the British Government. Therefore, regrettably, it is not possible for the Assembly to take a decision on the matter. The only course of action open to us is to lobby our Prime Minister and our Secretary of State directly and hope that the Taoiseach and the Irish Government can also use their good offices to enable us to achieve the desired result. The Assembly does, however, have an important representative role in that it can express the authoritative voice of the people of Northern Ireland to other levels of government.
Why should the Assembly push for St Patrick’s Day to be made a public holiday? Put simply, St Patrick’s Day is an important day for people throughout Northern Ireland. It celebrates the man who is historically associated with bringing Christianity to Ireland. His importance is recognised by Protestants, Catholics and many others. St Patrick is the great unifier.
St Patrick’s Day is also significant in a number of non-religious ways throughout the island. Throughout the world it is regarded as Ireland’s national day, North and South. Around the world it is something for people of Irish descent to celebrate. And why not?
In Northern Ireland many people from all traditions wear shamrock. Indeed, shamrock is traditionally presented to the Irish regiments every St Patrick’s Day. Sometimes at parades and festivals we have the great traditions of music, Irish food and green Guinness, which are enjoyed by many people. More importantly, religious services are celebrated throughout the length and breadth of the island, and it is also the day on which schools’ cup rugby, soccer and gaelic football finals are played.
There is no doubt that St Patrick’s Day contributes to tourism in Ireland, both North and South, which is so important to our economic well-being. I welcome the news that the Apprentice Boys of Derry are planning a St Patrick’s Day festival this year and are to encourage their members to wear shamrock. That is progress that we can all support. I draw the House’s attention to the fact that the Apprentice Boys are set to go green for St Paddy’s Day. Who could fault people for that? Quite rightly they are recognising that St Patrick’s Day is a celebration for the whole community, and not just for one part of it.
St Patrick’s Day is a bigger event in some parts of the world than here, especially where there are large populations of Irish descent. One of the biggest annual parades is in New York, and there are parades in many other American towns and cities as well. The St Patrick’s Day pilgrimage to the White House is now an annual event for many of our leading politicians, and they all seem to enjoy the festivities. Surely it is strange that St Patrick’s Day is celebrated more enthusiastically internationally than at home and that it remains only a bank holiday, not a public holiday, in Northern Ireland.
Some workers, such as civil servants, bankers and, indeed, Assembly Members, will have the day off and can join in the celebrations. But many others, such as the shipyard workers, the aircraft and other factory workers, will have to plod on. Indeed, many children still have to go to school.
I have spent many years working in industry, and I always felt it an injustice to have to clock in on St Patrick’s Day when others were on holiday. In this era of equality all people should be given the same opportunities and privileges. We discussed equality issues this morning. Now is the time to show our sincerity and treat everyone in the same way. To do otherwise would be barefaced hypocrisy.
There are other reasons for St Patrick’s Day’s being made a public holiday. St Patrick’s Day unites all sides of the community in Northern Ireland. We should cherish and promote this in what is otherwise a deeply divided society. The Good Friday Agreement seems to be built on a vision of two separate but equal communities working together with mutual respect. This is not a vision that is shared by us; nor is it sufficient for Alliance. Not only does it ignore the much greater pluralism that exists; it does not encourage the emergence of common bonds and loyalties among our people — something that should concern not just the liberally minded but everyone. Unless the things that unite us begin to dominate those that divide us, it will be too easy for society to be torn apart at some time in the future by those who thrive on suspicion and mistrust.
To counter this danger we need to develop a stronger sense of common regional identity. This should draw upon, reflect and respect the diversity of cultural traditions right across society. It cannot and must not be based exclusively on one or other of the two main political and religious sections. Promotion of what the people of Northern Ireland hold in common is something that the Secretary of State himself touched upon in a speech that he made to the Institute of Irish Studies in Liverpool last Friday. He said that he wanted to see a Northern Ireland with two self-assured traditions but one body of citizens united by
"shared language, shared values and shared land with bonds that are strong enough to encompass diversity of religion, of politics and of custom."
He cautioned against outsiders trying to impose this but recognised that within the institutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement the people of Northern Ireland, and their representatives, can help to shape the values, identities and symbols of our society.
We can now do this by speaking with one voice. A call from the Assembly to make St Patrick’s Day a public holiday could be an important first step towards trying to recognise and enlarge our common bonds. However, we must recognise that not every citizen in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland is of Christian origin. As far as I am aware, St Patrick was neither a Unionist nor a Nationalist, nor was he a card-carrying member of the Alliance Party, the Women’s Coalition or any other party, North or South.
All people in Northern Ireland, Unionist and Nationalist and those of us from the centre, should be able to associate with St Patrick, in comfort. It should be open to those from all religious backgrounds — Christian, non-Christian — and none.
This motion gives the Assembly an opportunity to send an important message asking that St Patrick’s Day be made a public holiday, and I commend it to the House.
[Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr McClelland) in the Chair]
I beg to move the following amendment: At the end add
"and to add that day to the list of official flag days".
I am moving this amendment because I believe that if the Assembly were to support it we would be taking a step towards what is custom and practice in other parts of the United Kingdom. The Union flag is flown in Wales on St David’s Day (1 March), in England on St George’s Day (23 April), and in Scotland on St Andrew’s Day (30 November).
I intend to allow five minutes for each Member who wishes to speak so that the proposers of the motion and the amendment may have 10 minutes each at the end of the debate.
It will not surprise the Assembly that I am speaking in favour of the motion, being a native of, and coming from, Dún Phádraig (the fort of Patrick), where his mortal remains and those of St Brigid and St Colmcille lie in the cathedral grounds under the auspices of the Church of Ireland.
Anyone who has taken the trouble to research the history of St Patrick will agree with the proposer of the motion that he should be a unifying force, an important part of the Christian heritage of the people of Ireland. It does not matter that that Christian heritage diversified and has different connotations today — it had a common origin in the preachings of St Patrick and his disciples. Indeed, non-Christians in our community have very high regard for that tradition and would not oppose the celebration of St Patrick in any way, if only because on his day, throughout the world, Irishmen, from North or South, commemorate together their origins in the island of Ireland.
I always find it sad to look across the Atlantic and see the enormity of the celebrations there, and the exodus from this island to America. We should be celebrating the day here ourselves in harmony and comradeship.
The Irish diaspora, which is not often mentioned but is very much Patrician, is that which spread from this island, and particularly from the North — Down, Antrim and Armagh — through western and eastern Europe to the Dalmatian coastline of the Adriatic. People from here founded monasteries, towns and all sorts of institutions, and that has never been tapped.
If we want to be commercial about it, we could harness that enormous link with people around the world. The people of Ireland have touched not only the 40 million people in America but huge numbers of people in Western Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and Australia. They would be only too happy to celebrate that wonderful day with us if we got our house in order.
I believe I heard the melodious voice of Sammy Wilson on the radio this morning saying that he intended to oppose the motion. I am not sure if I interpreted him correctly, but it puzzled me somewhat because I remember my esteemed parliamentary Colleague, the leader of the DUP, asking in the House of Commons some years ago that St Patrick’s Day be made a public holiday. I support him entirely in that. This should not be a party issue; it should be a matter of us all getting together to celebrate the day.
I would hate to think that this debate might later involve divisive issues. That is not the intention of the motion. The intention is to create something that we can celebrate together without confrontation, a national day that we can invite people from all continents to join with us in celebrating.
Let us support the motion. May I invite all Members to Downpatrick in July this year to celebrate the opening of the first Patrician centre in Ireland and in the world — a £6·3 million development which will explain to all of us what St Patrick is all about. Ergo Patricius.
My views on this subject are well known. I have expressed them in the House of Commons, and I proposed an amendment to a motion on the matter in the Forum. The amendment was carried. I support the amendment to this motion.
I, like all other right-thinking people in Ulster, regret the sectarian and political label that has been put on St Patrick. Prof Barclay was a well-known historian and a leader in the Irish Presbyterian Church who wrote a book which asked the question "Was the early Irish Church subject to Rome?". He answered "No. The independence of the early Irish Church is one of the most indisputable facts in history". How did Rome come to Ireland? Rome first gained an entrance — [Interruption]
St Patrick has such a wonderful place in heaven that he would not return to a place like this.
Rome gained entrance into Ireland in the eleventh century, 600 years after Patrick. When the Danes who had settled in Ireland became Christians they refused to acknowledge the authority and jurisdiction of Patrick’s Church and sent their bishops to be consecrated as Roman Catholic bishops.
Rome gained hold of the whole of Ireland because in 1155 Pope Adrian IV, the only Englishman who was ever Pope — and look what he did to you people — gave Henry II of England permission to conquer Ireland to enlarge the bounds of the Roman Catholic Church. I regret that Rome has put chains around St Patrick and said he was a Roman Catholic —
The Member has not read the history written by the priests of his Church. Otherwise he would know that what I am saying is true.
When he proposed the motion Mr McCarthy did not tell us about the sectarianisation and politicisation of Patrick. If you go to New York you will see the great parade he refers to. Is there anyone in that parade who would give one cent to a Unionist, or to a person wanting to maintain the Constitution? The Member knows there is not. St Patrick has had a Hibernian suit and sash and an IRA suit put on him. An IRA man, well known for his terrorist activities, has led that parade. If that is not making political capital out of a certain figure who was not political at all, I do not know what political capital is.
I refuse to hand St Patrick over to the Roman Catholic Church and the embrace of the Pope, or to the IRA and Nationalists. He is a figure to be honoured and remembered. He brought the Bible gospel. In his works — the Confession, the Epistle and the Hymn — one finds set forth the simple gospel of Jesus Christ:
"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
We should honour St Patrick and have a public holiday declared by the Secretary of State.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. I thank Mr McCarthy of the Alliance Party for moving the motion. I have major difficulty with the part of the motion calling for St Patrick’s Day to be made a public holiday that is dependent on the imprimatur of the Queen or the British Government. The Alliance Party was at pains to point out that the wording of the motion was completely out of its control.
I support the spirit of the motion that St Patrick’s Day should be for all Irish people. It should be for those people born on the island of Ireland who identify themselves variously as Scots, Scots-Irish, British, Chinese, Asian or of any other ethnic group, who, like those from all races around the world, join with the Irish annually in celebrating St Patrick’s Day.
Seamus Heaney, in his poem ‘From the Canton of Expectation’, recalls a St Patrick’s Day of his childhood in the North:
"Once a year we gathered in the field of dance platforms and tents where children sang songs they had learned in the old language, and stories were told of the history of Ireland. At the end of the day we sang the National Anthem, and then we went home to the usual harassment by militiamen on overtime at roadblocks".
The St Patrick’s day Seamus Heaney spoke about in his generation is not that different from the present St Patrick’s Day for Nationalists.
The Derry businessman Gerry Murray wrote in the ‘Derry Journal’ last year
"For the last number of years the people of the North have looked in awe as the Celtic Tiger of the Republic surged ahead with economic growth of 8%. In the week of the feast day of St Patrick half a million people from all over the world participated in the parade in Dublin, watched by a further quarter of a million."
The tourist industry in the South, recognising the potential of cultural celebration, made St Patrick’s Day a celebration for the Irish economy, so increasing its share of the gross national product to 7%. The North’s tourism lags behind at a mere 2%.
As well as in Dublin, St Patrick’s Day is celebrated all over the world, from Sydney to New York, from Washington to Paris — the list could go on. Indeed, in recent years we have seen many Members jetting off to the United States to join in the St Patrick’s Day celebrations there. If we were to make St Patrick’s Day a public holiday here we could give Washington a miss and kick off our tourist season at home by funding and extending the celebrations — in particular, those denied to people in Belfast and Derry. Over the years, Unionism has made successive attempts to deny Nationalist people the right to their cultural identity and the right to uphold that identity by celebrating St Patrick’s Day as a public holiday, but it has only postponed the day of reckoning against the bleak cultural monolith of Six-County Unionism.
What we have seen in the amazing St Patrick’s Day parades in Belfast over the last few years is what we know from our history. One can strip a people of everything except their culture. They will still have enough culture buried deep in their psyche and in their imagination and enough skill to bring tens of thousands of people on to the streets of Belfast to celebrate their diversity, their talent, their imagination and their love of the country which gave them birth. If nothing else, the success of the St Patrick’s Day carnival in Belfast, despite Belfast City Council’s refusal to fund it, should indicate the support in the community for its being declared a public holiday.
What a surprise it must have been to the narrow-minded begrudgers that a few tricolours should appear at the St Patrick’s Day parade in Belfast, or that people should resort to wearing green. Sure it happens all over the world.
I wish to congratulate the organisers of the St Patrick’s Day carnival in Belfast. Their efforts during recent years have paved the way for this motion. In line with the South, St Patrick’s Day should indeed be a public holiday. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is that Nationalists will no longer accept being told how or what they should do to celebrate their identity.
In normal circumstances the subject of how St Patrick’s Day could best be commemorated, given the saint’s legacy, would be an extremely appropriate matter for the House to consider. Patrick was indeed a saint in the true biblical sense. He was a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and dependent upon Him for his salvation. That is beyond dispute. I am sure that St Patrick would be absolutely aghast if he were here to witness how people currently celebrate his time in this land — with green beer and pagan parades. That has nothing to do with what Patrick believed or how he would have liked to be remembered.
However, this debate seems most inappropriate when we consider that last week the Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Mr David Trimble, refused the House the chance to debate the most important issue facing this community, one which requires urgent attention: decommissioning and how to remove terrorists and their guns from the democratic process.
I will indeed.
I simply make the point that St Patrick did not have a flag. Regardless of what colour people are trying to attribute to St Patrick, or what flag, be it the tricolour or the Union flag, people here would like to associate him with, he did not have a flag. Those who attempt to politicise Patrick or attribute colours of any hue to him do him and his message a grave disservice. Patrick came to know his Saviour under the banner of the cross. That is the only standard behind which he rallied, and that is what he would wish all in this community, whether Catholic, Protestant, Unionist or Nationalist, to do also.
As the people of Northern Ireland take their first tentative steps on a new road to a pluralist society and endeavour to come to terms with the divisions which have been created, rightly or wrongly, over the last few hundred years of their history, it is indeed timely to remind them that they have another, more ancient, legacy — a shared historical and cultural inheritance of which most of them are largely unaware. This is embodied in the figure, mythological or real, of St Patrick — Patricius, the "gentleman".
Among the oldest named population groups of Ireland were the Cruthin, an ancient British people dominant in large parts of old Ulster. Their most powerful dynasty was the Dal nAraidi whose territory became known as Dalaradia. According to legend, Patrick was first brought to Ireland as a slave from Romanised Britain and sold to a Cruthin chieftain called Milchu, a petty king who ruled over part of Dalaradia near Mount Slemish in present day County Antrim. It was later, at Kells and Connor rather than Downpatrick and Armagh, that the cult of Patrick developed in its present form. The story of Christian Dalaradia is not confined to its religious or political aspects but, indeed, embraces a quite remarkable literary tradition. Proinias MacCana, who was reared in the Falls Road area of Belfast and is our finest living Gaelic scholar, summed up this rich cultural legacy of Ulster when he wrote
"In Ireland the seventh century is marked by two closely related developments: the rapid extension of the use of writing in the Irish language and an extraordinary quickening of intellectual and artistic activity, which was to continue far beyond the limit of the centuries."
The immediate sources of this artistic renewal were the scriptoria of certain of the more progressive monasteries and their direct agents, those monastic literati, whom the Irish metrical tracts refer to by the very significant title "Nualitride" — the "new men of letters". While there is no reason to suppose that these individuals were confined to any one part of Ireland, the evidence strongly suggests that it was only in the east, or more precisely in the south-east, of Ulster that their activities assumed something of the impetus and cohesiveness of a true cultural movement.
In this land of Ulster, conservation and creativity went hand in hand. In Ireland the relatively new skill of writing in the vernacular began to be vigorously exploited, not only for the direct recording of secular oral traditions — heroic, mythological and the more strictly didactic — but also as a vehicle for the imaginative recreation of certain sections of that Irish tradition. One may, with due reservations, speak of this region of south-east Ulster, where Members are presently sitting, as the cradle of written Irish literature. It was in Bangor in County Down that there seems to have been an intellectual centre whence the cultural dynamic of the east Ulster region emanated.
As Mr McGrady said, Dalaradia’s legacy and Ulster’s legacy was not confined to these shores. Not only was there a highly productive relationship with nearby Scotland, but when Columbanus set forth from Bangor on his great missionary travels he was embarking on a journey which was to have profound significance for the rebirth of European civilisation following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Most importantly, however, the story of Dalaradia and of that British slave who is credited with founding Christianity within it offers us hope that the people of present-day Northern Ireland may one day cease to view their different aspirations of Britishness and Irishness as a constant source of conflict and division —
— and begin to celebrate them as proof of their divergent but shared inheritance, one which links all the peoples of these islands. When this symbiosis of their identities is established, it will provide a solid foundation for the peace they so richly deserve.
I commend the motion, and I support the amendment.
Congratulations on your new office, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I sympathise with Dr Paisley’s remarks about how some people have sought to sectarianise the celebration of the cultural and religious inheritance of St Patrick for political ends. On occasions, the celebration of St Patrick’s Day has been a chauvinistic exercise, which any democratic person who is sincerely patriotic would condemn. Those of us who admire St Patrick wish to see St Patrick’s Day used to celebrate the diversity of Irishness rather than the narrow identification of Irishness which some would like to impose upon us.
As I have said, I sympathise with Dr Paisley, but, of course, he overreacts. St Patrick’s Day is a celebration that we can all enjoy and involve ourselves in. Thanks to St Patrick, this island has traditionally been called the land of saints and scholars referring to its being an island of spirituality and learning. We should try to rediscover those things, and in that way St Patrick could once again be a unifying rather than a divisive figure.
I listened to Sammy Wilson this morning on the radio. He is opposed to this motion, and one of his arguments is that he is not Irish. How absurd. When Mr Wilson was Lord Mayor of Belfast he wore the chain of office that was presented to the city in 1874. That chain, as Dr Adamson will confirm, has a Celtic design with representations of the four provinces of Ireland. It is inscribed "Erin go bragh", meaning "Ireland for ever". The chain was presented by the Protestant and Unionist councillors and aldermen of the Corporation of Belfast because they regarded themselves very much as Irishmen. They regarded themselves as Unionists but as Irish Unionists. Being a Unionist does not mean that one is not Irish or that one should deny one’s Irishness. People should celebrate their Irishness. To deny the political connotations is fair enough, but do not deny that cultural inheritance.
"all participants acknowledge the sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes, and the need in particular in creating the new institutions to ensure that such symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division."
Unfortunately, any flag, whether it be the Union Jack or the tricolour, creates divisions in this society. That is the unfortunate reality. We must move beyond that to a situation in which we either respect both flags on an equal footing or we create new symbols to unite the entire community —
Alternatively, we create a situation of complete neutrality, and such neutrality might well contribute to a greater sense of harmony. I regret that this amendment has been moved because it clouds what might otherwise have been unanimous support for the motion.
I have listened to some of the contributions with interest. I support the amendment, particularly as Members are talking about a person who came from the mainland and who, on his return, brought Christianity to this island. I mentioned in an earlier debate how we, at Christmas, had not acknowledged our Lord’s birthday. We were celebrating the second millennium but could not raise our flag in its recognition. That was despicable and irresponsible. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister abandoned their responsibilities. They should have ensured that the flag was flown. The First Minister pointed out that the flying of the flag is a matter of royal prerogative. For that reason, the flag should have been flown.
This is another occasion on which a unique personality should be celebrated. As Mr Alban Maginness quite rightly said, a contribution was made, not just in these islands, but to the whole of Western Europe through the movement that St Patrick set up. He brought Christianity to the Celts. Those people who are members of the Church of Ireland or, indeed, Presbyterians will have sung ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’. It is almost a confession of their faith — a confession that is shared by all of the reformed faith. We should, therefore, unhesitatingly give our support to this remarkable person. He established a culture of scholarliness which, in later centuries, the Roman Catholic system, when imposed, did everything in its power to eradicate. Early Christian writings are rare and extremely difficult to find. The early contributions of many of these people are perhaps the rarest and most important relics of that age.
Dr Adamson referred to St Columbanus, who was a product of the university set up in those days. The Black Death was probably the greatest contributing factor to moving our saints on crusades to evangelise the rest of the British Isles and the greater part of Europe.
However, while recognising St Patrick and acknowledging the great part that he played in our history, in shaping a land of saints and scholars, we know that much has been eradicated and that standards have been lowered. Who can honestly associate green beer with a Christian saint? And I have no more time for a person drinking orange beer underneath an Orange banner than for someone on green beer underneath a green banner. They are lowering the standards set by the good saint who brought us Christianity.
My constituency has a particular association with St Patrick.
We have a St Patrick’s law. We had a monastic settlement from where it is said he borrowed a white horse which he used to eradicate the snakes in Ireland. However, when I look around I know that Homo sapiens "snakeanus" remains in abundance.
This is a serious occasion, and if we accept the motion that this day should be a holiday, we have every right to celebrate it in freedom. We should be able to celebrate it without mockery from Nationalism, without mockery and hypocrisy from Republicanism and without anything being imposed by others who appear to have given nothing when their contributions are seen alongside the good man’s bringing of Christianity to Ireland.
I support the amendment, and I hope that it will succeed.
A LeasCheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an rún seo. Mar Phoblachtánach, ní thaitníonn cuid den téarmaíocht liom—ní gá a rá—ach tá mé ar aon intinn le spiorad an rúin. Tá Lá Fhéile Pádraig thaire a bheith tábhachtach dúinn uilig mar Éireannaigh.
I support the spirit of the motion. It serves to highlight the nonsense of St Patrick’s Day’s not being an official public holiday in this part of Ireland. Why should St Patrick’s Day not be a public holiday in the Six Counties? It could only happen in this part of Ireland.
It has been well ventilated, hitherto in this debate, that St Patrick’s Day is celebrated throughout the world. It is a day on which people express great pride in being Irish, both in Ireland and abroad, in places like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sydney, Paris, Moscow and even Tokyo. St Patrick’s Day is a wonderful statement of Irish national pride, inclusive of all religions, exiles and emigrants. It would be an odd state of affairs if Irish people who reside on the island of Ireland could not properly and officially celebrate their national day.
I agree with Mr McCarthy and Mr Maginness that St Patrick is a unifying symbol for all Irish people and that he is an important part of our common heritage, as outlined so well by Mr Adamson. His memory and image are a threat to no one. Any opposition to this motion is rooted in pettiness and in the desire to deny parity of esteem to every class and section of people here.
St Patrick’s Day is for the Irish, and it would be reasonable to anticipate cross-party support for the motion. It should not be contentious.
Sin mo mhéid. Go raibh maith agat.
As other Members have said, St Patrick’s Day should be recognised by all of us as a day for celebration and an opportunity for reconciliation. It should not be hijacked by anyone — [Interruption]
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. We all have different ideas of equality.
St Patrick’s Day should not be hijacked by any one group, church or tradition. Many of us personally identify with St Patrick’s Day. I remember as a child putting on shamrock to commemorate our patron saint. In later years, I remember celebrating St Patrick’s Day with many of our voluntary organisations and peace groups in the Church of Ireland’s Down Cathedral in Downpatrick and then watching the parade pass through the town. It was a wonderful feeling, and I wish that it could be repeated in the future.
I also remember St Patrick’s Day was a cross-community celebration. At the ceremonies in Downpatrick and elsewhere we all came together — believers and non-believers from different background and traditions — to remember the man who came to unite all the people in a spirit of goodwill and tolerance.
St Patrick’s Day should not be used as a tool to divide us. This would fly in the face of the Christian message that St Patrick sought to promote. That is why it is wrong for some sections of the community to try to associate St Patrick’s Day with narrow or sectional political causes.
Parades should be inclusive and representative of the various groups and organisations in the towns and cities in which they take place. That is why the Alliance Party had considerable difficulties with the proposed parade for Belfast, although it supports the concept of the Belfast parade in principle. All sections of the community recognise the important contribution made by St Patrick to Christianity in Ireland, and that view has been echoed today by other Members.
It is somewhat unfortunate that Protestants, unlike Catholics, have felt inhibited about celebrating St Patrick’s Day. Catholics have never tried to hijack St Patrick. He is not a Catholic St Patrick — he is St Patrick.
I hope that in supporting the motion on a cross-community basis we can send a firm message that St Patrick should be for everybody. The case for making St Patrick’s Day a public holiday is a strong one.
First, it would enable everybody to have the day off work and school and take part in the various events being held around the country. Secondly, it would enable people to celebrate St Patrick’s Day with the same vigour and enthusiasm with which it is celebrated in other parts of the world. Surely it is strange that St Patrick is commemorated more abroad than in parts of his own land? Thirdly, it would enable the Government to declare a public holiday for which there is considerable cross-community support.
It is vital that we, as an Assembly and a Government, take this opportunity to promote what this community holds in common to counter what divides us all, and St Patrick can really be for all of us. Therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, I support the motion.
I support the motion and the amendment. Why? Basically because, if passed, the amended motion would encourage the Government to act more consistently in their treatment of people in Northern Ireland and would enable greater consistency between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
In terms of consistency within Northern Ireland, a substantial percentage of employees currently gets St Patrick’s Day as a holiday, but not everybody does. In terms of consistency within the United Kingdom, as my Colleague Mr Wilson has already pointed out, it is the case that St Andrew’s Day in Edinburgh and St David’s Day in Cardiff are already so-called national flag days when the Union flag of the United Kingdom is flown. Also, if a public building has a second flagpole, the flag of the appropriate country or principality — in our case, Province — is also flown.
As a Unionist, I do not regard the remembrance of St Patrick with any particular discomfort, though I do share the reservations that some people on this side of the House have expressed about the way in which St Patrick has been remembered in certain quarters over the years. At one time I would have approached the question of the celebration of St Patrick with some degree of agnosticism. At one point I would have agreed with those commentators who doubted if he existed at all. But I have moved beyond that point, and I now see that he may well be buried in at least two places — a formidable achievement!
As someone who was born in Great Britain, I also note with some amusement that Patrick may have been a native of the Bristol area, or south Wales, or the Scottish shore area of Solway Firth. Dr Adamson, Mr Alban Maginness and other Members have pointed out St Patrick’s contribution to wider European history. Indeed, the notable historian Norman Davies, in his recent ‘Europe A History’, writes of St Patrick’s life’s work
In a sense Mr Gibson has anticipated me, for if it is indeed true that Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland, then a modern application does perhaps suggest itself as we consider some of the wider political issues facing us this week.
Let me summarise the reasons for having a public holiday to commemorate St Patrick. As has been pointed out by a number of Members, he was a Christian saint who pre-dated our Protestant and Catholic traditions, and in his life he expressed both the tragedy and triumph of relations between the two islands of Britain and Ireland.
For these reasons I support the motion and the amendment.
First, may I express some regret about the comments made by my Colleague Mary Nelis, who referred to the bleak cultural monolith of Six-County Unionism.
While there are cultural monoliths in the North, they are not exclusive to Unionism, and Members on this side of the House should recognise that cultural monoliths, and their bleakness, have been common to both of our traditions in the past — and they are not exclusive to one tradition now.
The comment was also inappropriate given that in the Chamber today we are going to have an example not of bleak cultural monoliths but of inclusive cultural thinking. It was inappropriate for that sort of comment to be made, on this day of all days. I recognise that Barry McElduff acknowledged the comments made by Ian Adamson. He is not an advocate of bleak cultural monolithism, and that was reflected in his speech.
Unfortunately, the SDLP will not support the amendment moved by the Ulster Unionist Party. However, it is important to acknowledge the reason for that. There is quite a degree of cohesion and agreement about St Patrick and what he represents in terms of culture, community and religion, and that has been reflected in the debate and in the wider community. This differentiates the issue of St Patrick from the issue of flags, and it was inappropriate, and unnecessary, to parachute into this debate something that was bound to cause a degree of division. For those reasons, as well as for those outlined by my Colleague Alban Maginness, we will not be inclined to support the amendment.
However, some comments made in this debate are a signpost to how we should conduct ourselves here and in the wider community in future.
The Nationalist people, of whom I am one, have to recognise that their identity is in a process of evolution because of our political and constitutional agreement. What it is to be Irish — and that includes our wish to share in the life of the island — is different now from what it was before. As Nationalists we have to recognise that we are being influenced by the various diaspora around the world and by our wider European identity.
Nationalists must also acknowledge that our sister island influences our identity and what it means to be Irish in the new millennium. While we are not sure what those influences mean for us, and we are not sure about how our identity will change because of them, there are influences upon our values, our culture and our way of life which have redefined us as Irish people in this part of the island.
This means that there are influences from the British island on our identity and on how we perceive ourselves that we, as people of this island, are going to have to acknowledge more fully. As we begin to acknowledge this, we must also acknowledge that there are people in this Chamber, and in the wider community, who are beginning slowly and painfully to acknowledge other influences upon their identity, influences from the whole island, which are going to mean for them a period of growth and development.
Finally, if we do not sign up to a wider celebration of St Patrick’s Day and all that that means, in narrow terms, we will be letting all the community down.
St Patrick’s Day, more than any other day, is the day on which this island is in the eye of the world. The world identifies with it and shares in it. This is not just a religious event. Religion is in decline, and that is a matter of regret. This is the day on which the world can see our economic opportunity, our commercial initiative and the wider opportunities that are there for the people of this island to enjoy if we grasp them. By developing our notion of what it is to be Irish and by sharing in the concept of St Patrick’s Day, whatever that means to us, we can create opportunities for all the people of this island for the future.
I support the amendment to the motion, and I want to make my reasons clear. Any proposal before the Assembly to encourage the United Kingdom Government to permit the flag to fly over this part of the United Kingdom, especially at a time when we are being stripped of our British identity, will always have my support. I will not be supporting the motion.
When Mr McCarthy was proposing the motion, he apologised for its wording. I thought that he was apologising for his grammatical contortions, but he was doing what the Alliance Party does best: crawling to Sinn Féin. I am sorry that we have to appeal to Her Majesty’s Government. I know that this may be offensive to Sinn Féin, but, unfortunately, this is the way in which it has to be done.
The motion itself does not make sense. If one reads the couple of contributions that Mr McCarthy has made in the Assembly one will see that he is the master of grammatical contortion. When the Hansard staff get to work on his two speeches they will be unable to get rid of his split infinitives.
I want to refer to points already made. In one sentence Mr McCarthy paid lip-service to the fact that St Patrick’s Day has something to do with a religious figure. He said that St Patrick had a role in bringing Christianity to Ireland.
In the rest of his five or 10 minutes he dealt with other reasons, the non-religious aspects of St Patrick’s Day, and they were well explained by himself, the SDLP and Sinn Féin. They all centre around the celebration of Ireland’s national day, our national day, the day on which Irish people express their culture. Alban Maginness has, in his arrogance, tried to tell me that it is absurd to say that I am not Irish. I am not Irish, and all the arrogance and all the contorted logic of Alban Maginness will not make me Irish. I do not wish to celebrate Ireland’s national day. I do not wish to celebrate the day on which Irish people celebrate their culture. I am British, and proud of it. Wearing a chain with "Erin go bragh" round my neck did not make me Irish.
[Madam Deputy Speaker (Ms Morrice) in the Chair]
Secondly, no self-respecting Protestant would be comfortable in a parade which claims to celebrate a national saint and which has at its head gunmen and gun-runners —
That parade has people celebrating the resistance of the Garvaghy Road residents and bans the flag of St Patrick in favour of the Irish tricolour. No self-respecting Protestant could call an event like that inclusive, and for that reason I will not support the motion in the name of Mr McCarthy.
I do not know how to begin after that speech. I have always been of the opinion that St Patrick’s Day should be celebrated and should be a public holiday. I support the amendment because the motion does not go far enough. Some mention has been made of the chain which I also wore as Lord Mayor of Belfast. During that time I attempted to have the Lord Mayor’s parade brought forward to St Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful. Had I been successful, we might not have had the sectarianism in the Belfast parade last year that will probably be present this year. Mrs Nelis mentioned funding. I walk on 12 July in the biggest parade of all, and I do not have any funding. I have to pay my dues before I am allowed to walk, so I do not see why anybody needs funding for a parade.
There has been much talk about Irish and British. I am both Irish and British. I believe that anyone who is born on the island of Ireland is Irish and that anyone who is born in Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, is British. I belong to the Church of Ireland, which is founded on the principles of St Patrick. I also belong to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and am very proud of that. It is wrong for Members and Friends opposite to lecture us on what it means to be Irish. I do not need any such lectures. I know what I am, and I have always shown it.
The dispute about what an Irishman actually is has been going on for a long time. One English dictionary described an Irishman as a hunter, and another as a moorsman. I think it was the poet Patrick Kavanagh who described an Irishman as a sophisticated mechanism for turning Guinness into urine. Those who are Murphy’s drinkers, like me, will find that it is a superfluous exercise anyway.
In 1921 the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland said that Ulstermen were Irishmen, the best Irishmen — aye, the very best. I agree.
I have no problem with the motion in principle, but it does not go far enough. If you have a public holiday here you fly the Union flag. Wales, Scotland and England have public holidays commemorating their saints, and the Union flag is flown. Since we are part of the United Kingdom it should be no different here.
When the Lord Mayor of Dublin was in Belfast with his chain of office, which carries a motif of King William of Orange, I offered to swap, but he would not agree.
I support the amendment.
The issue of St Patrick’s Day’s becoming a holiday has been well examined by Members in an erudite way and in other ways. I can but add one or two comments about the importance of St Patrick to Ireland in another sense — and I make no apologies for saying this. St Patrick has international appeal and recognition. It was John F Kennedy, I think, who said that there were some 47 million people of Irish descent or who would claim Irish connection. President Reagan pitched it at 70 million. Whatever it is, there is an enormous potential for tourism, and I am talking about using the patron saint’s day and the image of St Patrick to attract tourists. We have been working on this in Downpatrick in a number of ways. We are very proud of what we have achieved so far and are optimistic about the future. This is something that we should not forget.
Downpatrick’s St Patrick’s Day parades have been very successful. The reason for that — other Members have noted this — is that no national flags of any kind have been flown. We asked people not to bring them, and 99% did not. The council provides St Patrick’s flags, and that has been successful because it has been seen as neutral: people participate without any fear of being in awe of any one side.
That is why, as my Colleagues have explained, we cannot support the amendment. I have no doubt that there were good intentions behind the amendment, but it has escaped the notice of those who proposed it that of all things in Northern Ireland flags are perhaps the most divisive. That is because of the way in which they are used.
Flags originated with Roman standard-bearers. A bearer in the legion held the standard against all odds, and the legion would defend the standard-bearer to the very last person. The image of the standard-bearer was carried forward by the Normans with flags that we know and see today and by Governments into nation states. In the last and previous centuries, regiments fought with their colours and defended them to the last man if necessary. They honoured and respected their flags and gave them their allegiance.
What happens in Northern Ireland? Flags are an in-your-face political taunt for both sides.
This is a primeval urge which reminds me of wild dogs urinating to mark their territory, and that is the image of flags on both sides. When you drive around Northern Ireland you see the tatters on the masts and flagpoles. Who has any respect or honour for his flag when he allows that to happen to it? Those flags are a political taunt. That is why we cannot support the amendment to the motion. The motion is a good and sound one which has my full support, but the amendment is divisive by its very nature.
I am unable to support the motion, but I support the amendment. At the moment St Patrick’s Day is a bank holiday but not a public holiday, and there are many who want to see it become a public holiday which they can enjoy. I do not have any difficulty with that. If that is their wish they should be granted it.
Patrick’s theology and religious practices have come up quite often in the debate. There are relevant in that they are often overlooked on the streets of New York, Washington and elsewhere, where St Patrick’s Day seems to be a bigger day than it is on the island of Ireland. However, Patrick’s theology and religious practices are not an issue. The issue is whether Patrick remains the patron saint of the Republic of Ireland. If he does, how can British citizens feel part of the celebration?
The comments by Mr Maginness, the Member for North Belfast, almost beggar belief. If we are not part of an ethos or an identity, whatever is done to attempt to widen that identity does not matter, because we are still simply not part of it. It is like asking the people who live alongside the Great Lakes or on the borders of Canada if they want to be part of the 4th of July. They would say "Why on earth should we? We are not Americans." And if someone pointed out that they lived in North America they would reply "Yes, but we are Canadians." It is the same in Northern Ireland. We may be Irish because we live on the island of Ireland, but we are British by birth and will remain so.
Can Bastille Day be celebrated in Spain? Why not? If those whose identity is not Irish can be expected to celebrate Irishness, why can we not expect the Spanish to celebrate Bastille Day? Is the modern St Patrick’s Day for everyone regardless of his religion? It should be for everyone who regards himself as Irish. I do not and never will, now or in the future, and my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will not regard themselves as Irish either. We treat with contempt this attempt to widen Irishness to include Protestants and the thought that if the parade is made less contentious, perhaps the Protestants will join in. That is the issue. That is the nature of this agenda.
I close my remarks by referring to the last Member’s comments about flags. I endorse some of what he said, for there has been too much flag-waving and in-your-face triumphalism with flags. The Member does not seem to understand, however, that they hauled down the Union flag in his council area following precedents set by other local authorities who had done likewise. Unionists saw that as the exit sign. It was time to go. They were not wanted. They were not welcome. They should leave. That is what they did in Londonderry. That is what they did elsewhere along the border. Where the Union flag cannot fly, British citizens are not welcome. Until people realise and accept that, we will have grave difficulties.
Nearly everything that needed to be said has been said already. First, it strikes me as somewhat ironic that we are discussing the celebration of a "Brit" as the patron saint of Ireland. Given the oft-heard battle-cry of "Brits out", this could pose a difficulty for certain people in the years ahead, when they may have to look for another patron saint for Ireland.
Secondly, as has been pointed out, we are formalising the flying of the Union flag. Since the removal of the irredentist claims in articles 2 and 3 of the Republic of Ireland’s constitution, we feel that we are merely normalising this part of the United Kingdom in that regard.
Thirdly, and most importantly, having St Patrick’s Day as a national holiday would remind us of the true spirit of worship. To love the Lord our God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves should be the principle which supersedes and influences every aspect of our lives, including politics. If the challenge of St Patrick and the message he had about our personal lives and our relationship with our God and our neighbours were to enhance the quality of our lives and our politics, it would be worth it. I support the amendment.
I listened with interest as this debate unfolded. I listened particularly to the Member who moved the motion and observed with even greater interest how he failed to address certain questions when asked to do so. I look forward to his addressing those questions, particularly the one about the sectarian nature of St Patrick’s Day parades in Northern Ireland.
The parade from which he derives the greatest joy is the one in New York. Can anyone with half a head on his shoulders not wonder what planet these people came from, given the coat-trailing exercise carried out in the name of celebrating St Patrick’s Day, particularly in Belfast?
I listened to the rant from Mary Nelis. It was nothing more than a sectarian rant, but one would hardly expect anything else from that quarter. It seems to be that Lady’s hallmark. She boldly declared that St Patrick’s Day was for the Irish. Then she got succour, comfort and support from the pan-Nationalist front spearheaded by Mr Maginness. He said that we on this side of the House have an identity crisis and are not really British at all. We are simply Irishmen just as he is.
He has been told in clear and unambiguous terms that we are not Irish bigots like him. Members such as Mr Campbell have said that. In fact, we are British and proud of it. We have no apologies to make for that.
If Mr Maginness is up to it, I will throw down the challenge to the SDLP today to separate itself from Sinn Féin/IRA and take a bold and courageous stand against that sectarian organisation. Mr Attwood confirmed that it would not be doing that, and Mr ONeill seemed to think that it was for him to reinforce that. As far as the SDLP is concerned, the sectarian nature of St Patrick’s Day will continue as boldly as ever.
Mr ONeill said that flags divide people. He is quite right — they do. They single people out. In the part of the world where I live they mark out territory. The flag of my country is taken down, and the flag of a foreign, hostile nation is raised. That is the encouragement that Unionists get along the border. Maybe Mr ONeill has never been there, but he should go and see it for himself. Of course, the council that he sits on wants to compound the matter and insult us even more. It took down the Union flag of the country that pays all the grants and gives all the comforts that Mr ONeill wants to enjoy. It had to be pulled down. This is how he says he can unite the people and bring them together. Where does he live anyway?
This just shows how successful flags have been in Northern Ireland in bringing people together. I am talking about both sides, as I have made clear.
Does Mr ONeill watch the St Patrick’s Day parade on television? Does he see the thousands of Republicans who flaunt themselves as they march in triumph behind the tricolour? Can he say that that has brought the two communities together?
I congratulate Belfast City Council on having used its discretion to turn down the grant application for that coat-trailing exercise. I have no hesitation in supporting the amendment. Militant Republicanism in this Province has abused the name of St Patrick, and this is another opportunity for it to extend itself and the support that it feels it deserves.
I will be supporting the amendment.
Go raibh maith agat, a Leas Cheann Comhairle.
Having listened to Dr Adamson’s learned dissertation on the historical background to St Patrick, I hesitate to add to the debate. Dr Adamson’s speech contrasted favourably with Mr S Wilson’s pantomime and with Dr Paisley’s rather interesting fundamentalist contribution. I find it difficult to understand how anyone can speak for his grandchildren. I never know what my grandchildren are going to do from one minute to the next, never mind from one century to the next. Sometimes when Mr Campbell speaks, his mind forgets where his mouth is.
Sinn Féin could have been churlish and argued about the wording of the motion. We could have said that we did not agree with the wording but that we would support the motion anyway because we agree that there should be a public holiday on St Patrick’s Day. It is unfortunate — and we have heard this from the DUP — that the issue of the flag has been introduced to the debate, for all the churches (Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist and Roman Catholic) accept the Christian influence that St Patrick had on this island and regard him as a saint. It would have been good, a unifying force, if we could have agreed, without any great debate that was going to divide orange and green or bring in elements of sectarianism, that St Patrick’s Day should be a public holiday.
It would be appropriate for St Patrick’s Day to be a public holiday — and I say so not because I am a Catholic or even because I am an Irishman. When we say "Brits out" we are not talking about the people who inhabit this part of the island; we are talking about the institutions of British governance on this part of the island. I wonder if Billy Bell would think the flying of the Irish national flag alongside the Union Jack acceptable, as flying the Union flag alongside the Scottish flag is accepted in Scotland. I do not want to talk about the flag; it should not be dragged into this debate. It should not be relevant to an issue that is intended primarily to bring about consensus or even introduce ecumenism into the debate.
I support the motion, a Leas Cheann Comhairle.
I support the amendment. As some Members have said, St Patrick’s Day could be an occasion for community participation and enjoyment if it were done properly. St Patrick is remembered in history as a saint, and many churches celebrate his bringing Christianity to Ireland. He also has pride of place on one of the Orange banners. The cross of St Patrick is paraded in Belfast every 12 July by a religious organisation. This shows that it recognises the part played by St Patrick.
What do we see whenever a St Patrick’s Day parade takes place? We see the promotion of Nationalism. If St Patrick were here today to see the float representing prisoners’ organisations, would he see that as part of his Christianity? Would he see the flaunting of tricolours — and that is what happens — as promoting the religion that he brought here? Would he see the picking of marshals on the grounds of their Republican credentials or on account of their being ex-prisoners as Christian behaviour?
These parades are an organised attack on our British heritage. I would like to make it very clear that I am not Irish. I have no wish to be Irish. I am British by birth, British by persuasion and British by choice. That is the way I want to be. Some Members mentioned their children. I want my children and my grandchildren — if there are any, as I hope there will be — to have the same choice and the same freedom that I have.
It is clear from their comments today that some Members see the St Patrick’s Day parade as an opportunity not to bring the community together, or to recognise the bringing of Christianity to Ireland, but to promote a Nationalist ethos and Nationalist sentiments. By their promotion of the political ideals that they have espoused here today and on the parades which already take place, they have excluded people like me from participating or from even wanting to participate. If they were to take out the politics and the national aspirations and focus entirely on St Patrick’s Christianity, many more people could and would enjoy the occasion. The quicker they put the focus on Christianity rather than on Nationalist aspirations and Nationalist politics and on rubbing our noses in the dirt, the quicker they will have that participation.
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I did not intend to politicise the debate or cause division during its course, nor have I attempted to do so. There is no need to. I have no discomfort — that was a good word used by my Colleague Dr Birnie — with St Patrick. I never have had, and I have no intention of having discomfort with St Patrick in the future.
I have no discomfort with St Brigid or St Bride — the name of my parish church and the townland where I was born. How could I have discomfort with that? I believe, however, that if this is to be a public holiday, the Union flag, the flag of this country, should be flown. It is as simple as that.
I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate. It has been useful and constructive. In particular, I thank those Members who have indicated that they will support the amendment, and I commend it to the House.
The motion and the debate today have highlighted the unsatisfactory situation that the day on which we celebrate our national patron saint is only partially recognised as a public holiday. There have been some examples of that in the divisions between the public sector and the private sector and in the divisions between controlled and maintained schools. Sometimes it seems that Protestant schools only get the day off when they are playing in a Schools’ Cup final.
This is why it is so important that St Patrick’s Day be made fully inclusive, a day which can involve every citizen. We do not need divisive debates — [Interruption]
— any more than we need two parades in Belfast.
We need to apply some of the more positive examples that have been given during the debate, such as using the day to bring people together to celebrate their shared history. Mrs Bell and Mr ONeill gave the example of the Downpatrick parade. As Mr Kieran McCarthy said when he moved the motion, Patrick was neither a Unionist nor a Nationalist, nor was he a card-carrying member of the Alliance Party. Dr Birnie pointed out that Patrick was neither a Protestant nor a Catholic in the sense that we understand them these days. Rev Robert Coulter reminded us that Patrick was actually a Brit, born on the western shores of the adjacent island. For me, it does not really matter whether they were the shores of the Solway or the Severn, for he was an adopted Irishman.
He was indeed a blow-in, but to regard someone who has such a distinguished record and who brought Christianity to this island like that is fairly cheap.
I was very interested in Dr Ian Adamson’s linking Patrick very specifically to a small area around Kells and Connor. Even though I live in the parish of Connor, it is totally irrelevant whether he herded sheep on Croagh Patrick or pigs on Slemish. Patrick was brought here as a slave. He came back bringing Christianity with him. He lived, he taught and he died here, and we need to find a way to celebrate properly all that he brought to us.
It is funny how, in a debate where people seemed to be united, quite a few divisive remarks were made. Without recalling the remarks of every Member who spoke, I thank those who gave a broad general welcome. They started with Mr McGrady, and then I lost track.
I was interested in Dr Paisley’s comments. He made it clear that he supports the motion, and he respects the idea of honouring St Patrick. He complained about sectarianism and the politicisation of St Patrick’s memory, and that is entirely consistent with the motion. We do not want a divisive St Patrick’s Day. We want one in which the entire community can unite, because there are cultural reasons — whatever Mr Campbell and some other members of the DUP may think — for being united in this, regardless of feelings about national citizenship.
There were other expressions of support which perhaps I should gloss over, as they seemed a little thin at times. The exchange between Mr Maginness and Mr Gibson on the difference between cultural and political Irishness and the roots of Celtic Christianity was fascinating.
The fact that Mr McElduff managed to join in the debate without being heckled too much by the DUP is, perhaps, evidence of our have gone a stage further in the Assembly today.
Mr Bell made a very practical suggestion when, referring to his time as Lord Mayor of Belfast, he said that he had hoped that the Lord Mayor’s parade could be rescheduled to take place on St Patrick’s Day. The Assembly should suggest this to future Lord Mayors as one way of overcoming the divisions in Belfast on this issue.
We had the usual knockabout comedy from Mr Sammy Wilson. I gather that he does not like Alliance Party grammar. I do not particularly like the contorted way in which we have to phrase motions and amendments either.
I was fascinated by his session on the radio this morning. I gathered from the broadcast that he is concerned that people get drunk on St Patrick’s Day. He had barely finished speaking when my telephone rang and the lady on the other end of the line went on to inform me that she was a Protestant and that she had seen people drunk on the Twelfth. In fact, I have it on good authority that some people get so drunk on the Twelfth that they have to take the thirteenth off as well. This motion does not propose that 18 March too be a holiday. [Interruption]
I have news for the DUP: people get drunk at Christmas too. Do we now have to go out and tell people that Christmas is cancelled because people get drunk and misuse a Christian celebration? Perhaps Sammy Wilson will tell the children of Northern Ireland that Santa is not coming this year because adults get drunk.
The amendment needs to be taken seriously. However, I believe that it is unnecessary because, as I understand it, St Patrick’s Day is already a flag day in Northern Ireland.
The amendment will bring division to the Chamber where there is largely unity. It is unnecessary, and it is divisive. I wonder if Ulster Unionist Members watched the rugby match at Twickenham on Saturday when the English fans, who for so long have arrogated the Union flag to themselves, finally seemed to have discovered their third of it — they were waving the St George cross.
No. I am afraid that I am under a time limit.
If we are looking at the issue of flags it is time that people stopped arrogating the Union flag to one section of society. We could perhaps take our third out of it and use St Patrick’s flag as a unifying force instead of the two national flags, which are divisive.
I also believe that Mr Wilson is wrong and that in Scotland the Union flag and the saltire are flown beside each other on the Scottish Parliament. In Cardiff, they even fly the European flag beside the Union flag and the Welsh dragon, so some of the remarks that were made about practice in other parts of the UK are inaccurate.
I want to see a future in which we start to move away from divisions, from the "them and us" society that has been our lot for 30 years. We have "their" schools and "our" schools, "their" churches and "our" churches, "their" estates and "our" estates, and "their" clubs and "our" clubs. This motion at least gives us a chance to show that we want to get away from the idea of "their" holidays and "our" holidays. I urge the Member who moved the amendment to withdraw it in the interests of unity in the Assembly, and I urge the Assembly to support the motion.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I want to raise a point of order relating to the issue of flags. Yesterday was one of the designated flag days, and I understand that the national flag was flown from this building, but, sadly, not from Rathgael or Castle Buildings. Members will recall that on 17 January this House passed a resolution condemning the Health Minister’s refusal to grant permission to fly the national flag. Assurances were given — this is my point — by the First Minister, among others, that this matter would be dealt with before the next designated flag day.
Yesterday was such a day, and Sinn Féin still refuses to fly the national flag. What can be done about this? When will the First Minister be required to tell us what he is going to do?
I give an immediate response, but I will check up. My recollection is that Sunday was the flag day and that the flag was flown. However, I am not clear that the House can make demands of Ministers. That is something that the Member and the House may wish to reflect upon, not only in respect of this matter but in respect of other matters as well. I will study what the Member has said and will respond as best I can.
I am a very liberal man.
The Assembly divided: Ayes 50; Noes 32.
Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Tom Benson, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Duncan Dalton, Ivan Davis, Nigel Dodds, Reg Empey, Sam Foster, Oliver Gibson, John Gorman, William Hay, David Hilditch, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, David McClarty, William McCrea, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, George Savage, Jim Shannon, David Trimble, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Jim Wilson, Sammy Wilson.
Alex Attwood, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, John Dallat, Arthur Doherty, Pat Doherty, Mark Durkan, Sean Farren, John Fee, Michelle Gildernew, Carmel Hanna, Joe Hendron, John Kelly, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mary Nelis, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Brid Rodgers, John Tierney.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
This Assembly calls on Her Majesty’s Government to proclaim each year St Patrick’s Day a public holiday in Northern Ireland and to add that day to the list of official flag days.
The sitting was suspended at 5.57 pm.