The Ulster Unionist Party’s Derry City and Strabane District Council leader, Derek Hussey, has said that the opportunity for the council’s official St Patrick’s Day Parade in Strabane to be an inclusive celebration which was welcoming to all has been lost at the behest of local Republican elected representatives and activists.
Alderman Hussey said: “It is disappointing in the extreme, though perhaps not surprising, that council proposals to have an inclusive St Patrick’s Day Parade in Strabane at which all sections of our community would feel welcome, has been hijacked by Republicans, in particular, Sinn Fein, to promote a form of cultural supremacy rather than the equality agenda that they continuously espouse.
“Is this also the ‘equality agenda’ whereby the local Orange Lodge and Band are prevented from processing through the town centre from their premises in the town of the morning of the 12th July en route to wherever the main procession may be or indeed the prevention of the local Royal British Legion from processing in the same town centre when they annually commemorate those from all sections of our community who paid the ‘supreme sacrifice’ in World Wars and other conflicts to defend our freedoms?
“It really was summed up by an Independent Republican elected representative when he described Strabane as a ‘republican and nationalist town’ during a radio debate that I was also involved in. Effectively what he was saying was ‘no others need apply’, an opinion that Sinn Fein seemingly also acquiesce to.
“Personally I believe that the symbolism and heritage of Patrick belong to us all and any hindrance to those wishing to celebrate the Saint’s Day in the true non-partisan spirit of what St Patrick preached and exhibited in his life should have been welcomed and indeed that is what Council would have been trying to encourage. The opportunity for an inclusive St Patrick’s Day Celebration in Strabane had been lost at the hands of Republican intransigence.
“As I understand the situation, given that this year’s St Patrick’s Day Parade is to be part of an overall council funded and organised Spring Carnival, proposals were therefore in place to follow the ‘customs and practices’ that have evolved since 2004 in regard to the similar event in Londonderry whereby participants do not carry any flags in the official council parade - obviously with the intention of encouraging a non-partisan event which is welcoming to all.”
In supporting Alderman Hussey, his Londonderry based Ulster Unionist Councillor colleague, Alderman Mary Hamilton said “In Londonderry much progress have been achieved in regard to all parading and processional events over the years. Specifically with regard to Council organised events, such as the St Patrick’s Day parade, we have achieved events that are non-political and that all of our people feel content to attend and be part of.
“I cannot understand what is so different about people in Strabane as opposed to us here in Londonderry that they cannot to follow the same guidelines that are used for our Council funded events in the City. It seems that they want the money but only on their conditions! Normally in other circumstances it is the funder that sets the Criteria for those in receipt of funds!”
Alderman Hussey was further critical of how the Sinn Fein’s Mayor McHugh handled discussion of the Strabane St Patrick’s Day flag issue saying:
“On Monday Council had their annual meeting to set Rates for the incoming financial year during which Mayor McHugh indicated that he had received a request from a member to bring the Strabane St Patrick’s Day flag issue to the attention of Council and that he had accepted the request which would be dealt with under Any Other Business at the end of meeting.
“The Mayor’s Sinn Fein colleague, Cllr Carlin, did bring to the floor of the Chamber asking for clarification as whether or not the ‘national flag and Shamrock’ were banned from the Strabane St Patrick’s Day parade and contributed an extension contribution to her question.
“In response a Council Official explained how over the years since 2004 the situation had evolved whereby no flags were carried within the Council St Patrick’s Day Parade in the City though flags would still be present among some of those many spectators present on the day. This did not satisfy Cllr Carlin and she again asked for an answer to her question.
“At this stage Mayor McHugh intervened and asked that the question be answered. The Chief Executive then informed members that there is no Council policy banning flags being displayed at Council St Patrick’s Day events!
“Once this response was received Sinn Fein’s Mayor McHugh immediately declared the meeting closed and would not allow any further discussion of the matter. There were members from across the Council Chamber seeking to contribute further to the discussion, including some that I would not necessarily agree with, but the Mayor refused to allow others permission other than the single contribution from his own Sinn Fein party’s representative. Such a denial of freedom of speech is to be deplored and the integrity of the Mayor as an apolitical figurehead called into question.”