No tricolours, but St Patrick’s Day branded ‘Irish language fest’

Strabane councillor Derek Hussey
Strabane councillor Derek Hussey

An Ulster Unionist councillor has welcomed a decision to ban the Irish tricolour from this year’s St Patrick’s Day parade in Strabane, but criticised the council for creating an “Irish language fest”.

Derek Hussey said Derry & Strabane Council’s planned ‘Irish Language Week’ as part of the 17-day Strabane Spring Festival would not bring a “tsunami of those from a PUL (Protestant/unionist/loyalist) community background” into Strabane.

“The symbolism and heritage of Patrick belongs to all and commemoration of his feast day therefore has the potential to bring citizens together in the associated events of celebration.

“Non-partisan participation in these events is something to be desired and should be encouraged though it must also be realised that the development of more representative community involvement is a long-term project,” he said.

The council has confirmed “flags and emblems” will not feature this year as they want the event to be a cross-community and family-focused celebration.

Independent councillor Paul Gallagher said the new plans – based on what he called council officials’ “interpretation of legislation” – were a departure from previous celebrations in Strabane when flags were “very much welcome”.

He told the BBC that he would be proposing that this interpretation is changed.

Mr Hussey said: “It is a great pity that our council have now determined to also incorporate the commemorative events in Strabane into a proposed, so-called Irish Language Week, when a week becomes 17 days, opening on March 1 and concluding on March 17.

“Within this, the former St Patrick’s Day in Strabane, with its organising committee standing down, is being rebranded within a Strabane Spring Festival – that has seemingly morphed effectively into an ‘Irish Language Fest’ in Strabane on March 17!

“The perception of Strabane being a ‘cold house’ for Protestants has been disappointingly enhanced.”