Delay over St Patrick’s Day

Delay over St Patrick’s Day

20 January 2021

NEWRY, Mourne and Down Council is coming under increasing pressure to formally cancel this year’s St Patrick’s Day parade in Downpatrick.

A number of politicians have joined forces to urge the local authority to confirm that the event will not go ahead due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Last year’s cross-community spectacular was cancelled ahead of the first national lockdown to help combat the deadly virus and with infection rates remaining high across the district, politicians say the council needs to pull the plug on this year’s celebrations which traditionally attract thousands of people to the county town.

Councillors insist that given the grip of the continuing public health emergency, the council needs to confirm that the parade will not take place.

The local authority has only confirmed that it is currently “reviewing plans” in line with the current restrictions and ongoing response to the Covid pandemic.

A council spokesman said that “further information will be available in due course” but politicians are insisting that the cross-community event must be cancelled now.

Councillors Willie Clarke, Dermot Curran, Billy Walker and Robert Burgess say the council needs to provide clarity around what will happen and that there must not be a “needless delay” in making a definitive decision.

Belfast City Council has cancelled its St Patrick’s Day parade, with Derry City and Strabane and Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon councils 

currently discussing how their March 17 events will be celebrated.

Local councillors say while Newry, Mourne and Down Council may be looking at what potential events it could host, the bottom line is that the main parade cannot take place in the current climate and must be cancelled.

They say it would be “unwise” to contemplate hosting any kind of parade and that council officials must provide clarity that there will be no event as it’s unlikely there will be any major change to current public health advice over the coming weeks.

Cllr Clarke says people need to know that the parade will not happen and while delighted that a coronavirus vaccination programme is being rolled out, he believes there is no way that large crowds will be permitted to gather outside by March.

“We need to continue protecting people’s health,” he said. “We also need to be honest and forthright with them and confirm now that this year’s St Patrick’s Day parade is cancelled.”

Cllr Clarke said the parade cannot go ahead in the current climate, confirming that if there is no major change in the scientific advice around the virus, Sinn Fein will call for parade to be cancelled.

He added: “Maybe the council will be able to organise some events by late summer but for now it must cancel the St Patrick’s Day parade and start planning for one of the best ever in 2022.”

Cllr Curran expressed surprise that the event has not yet been cancelled, given the ongoing public health emergency.

“We remain in a very serious situation. We need to tell people that the parade won’t be happening and the news will not be a surprise to them,” he said.

“At this moment in time we simply cannot organise events which encourages people to meet up outside in large numbers. Council officials must confirm now that the parade is cancelled. There must be no ambiguity around this issue.”

Cllr Curran said while traditional St Patrick’s Day church services may proceed virtually, other events associated with the celebrations around the patron saint will have to be cancelled for a second year in succession.

He added: “Let’s look forward to 2022 when this horrible virus will hopefully be well behind us and a sense of normality has returned to life across the district. We can celebrate next year’s St Patrick’s Day in style. In the current climate, public safety must be paramount.”

Cllr Walker urged council officials not to wait until the “eleventh hour” to pull the plug on the popular festival parade and also hopes that next year’s event will be one of the best ever.

“Given the huge number of coronavirus cases across the Newry, Mourne and Down area it would be madness to contemplate holding any kind of festival event in March. Public health must take primacy,” he added.

Cllr Burgess said public health advice was clear and that the local council must cancel the parade.

He said: “Councillors need to provide leadership at this time and the annual parade must be cancelled.The public health emergency continues to pose an increasing threat to people.

“I cannot understand why the council has not already cancelled the event. What is it waiting for? Everyone knows that it cannot proceed in the current climate. Formally cancel it now and start planning for next year.”