The Chief Executive of Derry City & Strabane District Council has said there was ‘no ban’ on the Irish Tricolour being carried in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade.
The matter was raised following widespread consternation after the council said last week that “flags and emblems would not be included in the official parade” in relation to the Strabane event. The council confirmed later the same applied to the Derry parade.
The matter was raised by councillors during a special council meeting to strike the annual rates last night in the Guildhall.
Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher had asked for Standing Orders to be suspended to address the issue at the start of the meeting, but despite the support of the SDLP and other independent councillors, it failed as Sinn Fein councillors said the issue would be discussed at the end of the meeting.
Colr. Gallagher had said that the policy with regards flags and emblems on St Patrick’s Day meant that “this council risks putting community relations back 30 years.”
Raising the issue later, Sinn Fein Councillor Karina Carlin said there had been outrage among the community over the issue.
She said the Strabane parade- which will be staged by the council for the first time - had always been inclusive and non-controversial, adding that there had been great offence caused in relation to the remarks regarding the Irish flag and emblems such as shamrocks not being displayed.
“Confusion turned to outright anger and outrage,” she said. “The display of the national flag or shamrocks are not offensive.”
Colr. Carlin said the Irish Tricolour and shamrocks featured in parades across Ireland, Britain, the US, Russia and elsewhere.
“The very idea that we in Strabane and Derry are banned from doing the same is making us a laughing stock around the world,” she said.
She said that while offence was not deliberately caused, an event that was non political and inclusive “has now been heavily politicised.”
Council’s Director of Business & Culture, Stephen Gillespie, said that since 2004 in Derry there had been an evolving process with participants asked to sign up to a parade in which no aspect should be party political or perceived as discriminatory. He said that in Derry that evolved into no flags being used as part of the parade. He said that a similar practise was applied with regards to Strabane.
In answer to clarity sought, Chief Executive John Kelpie said there was “no ban” on flags being carried.
Mayor of Derry Maolíosa McHugh then decided to draw the meeting to a close despite protestations from other councillors who claimed they were not given an opportunity to speak.
The Mayor, who was chairing the meeting, said now that clarity had been received around the Irish Tricolour, “I really don’t see the point of continuing with the discussion.”
Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly questioned why other councillors weren’t allowed to speak and questioned whether this was some sort of “fascist” regime.
Speaking after the meeting, Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly also took issue with regards to the way the discussion was closed.
He said that as a member of the Business & Culture Committee, there was never any discussion tabled at any meeting around the Irish Tricolour.
“It is appalling that I haven’t been given my right to challenge that directly and I was shut down by the Mayor,” he said.
Earlier DUP Councillor Drew Thompson said he took issue with the mention of the Tricolour as the ‘national flag’ and said that the Union flag was the flag of Northern Ireland.
DUP Councillor David Ramsey, speaking just prior to the meeting, said that the council was at risk of creating a cold house for the moderate majority. “The negativity this is bringing to the council area is deeply worrying and undoing great work by our communities over a number of years, especially since 2013 and the UK City of Culture,” he said. “Efforts need to be made to make peace with each other and not create difficulties for those in the front line trying to make this a better place.
“Remember this was seen as a cold house for Unionists, don’t make it a cold house for moderate people.”
A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council said in relation to the Strabane parade last week: “In keeping with the paper approved by the council’s business and culture committee the event will be a cross-community cultural celebration with a strong family-friendly focus.
“Therefore, flags and emblems will not be included in the official parade which is planned for the enjoyment of everyone.
“While no action is planned to prevent the use of flags or emblems, their display could have an adverse impact on council’s ability to deliver the event effectively in the future.”
The spokesperson also confirmed at that time that the same applied for the larger Derry Saint Patrick’s Day Spring Carnival parade.