The Sinn Fein MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Phil Flanagan has asked why iconic buildings around the world are turning green for St Patrick’s Day but not Stormont.
He certainly has a point.
St Patrick’s Day has become a huge global event in recent decades and yet it isn’t much marked in Northern Ireland. As Robin Greer wrote on these pages yesterday, much more could be made of the day in the Province.
Republicans share much of the blame for this: they would be happy for it to be an exclusive event. It has for example been a struggle to keep St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Belfast from not becoming a triumphalist and tribal sea of Tricolours.
But it would be a mistake for unionists to let such nationalist bigotry turn them away from March 17. The patron saint of Ireland pre-dates the Reformation by a thousand years and the creation of Northern Ireland by 1,500 years, so his importance relates to Christianity, not to Protestant or Catholic or north or south (although he has a special northern connection, where he is said to be buried).
Christianity established an earlier foothold in Ireland than it did in much of Great Britain, so Patrick is a huge figure, even if legend and fact about him are difficult to disentangle.
To this day, practising Christianity is stronger on both sides of the Irish border than in England (now with Protestants and Catholics coming together on issues such as abortion or euthanasia, or as they did at Stormont on Tuesday when Bishop Noel Treanor backed the DUP’s conscience clause).
So if we can agree on St Patrick’s significance, what about the greenery? That too need not be the preserve of republicans, as the Northern Ireland soccer strip shows. Stormont should go green on March 17, and savour its moment among more famous buildings that do the same. Tourists would love it.
And Parliament Buildings should go Orange also, on July 12. Tourists would love that too, and could learn about another date that marks major history that has global ramifications.