Secret St Patrick’s Day report – in full…

“THIS year’s St Patrick’s Day Carnival in Belfast was not a fully inclusive event, but neither was it an exclusive, intimidating one,” according to a key study of the Council’s efforts to provide a cross-community celebration of our national saint. The North Belfast News has apparently got its hands on the confidential report by Queen’s University’s Institute of Irish Studies on our disputed St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Belfast City Councillors now have their own copies to study – which points towards a reasonable degree of progress by the Council. Since it’s now in the public domain, I think it’s fair to allow Slugger’s readers to make their own minds up on this important report, as the NBN story will have its own particular axe to grind… It’s long, but well worth a read.[This is not the finished report. It is a draft version, the final version of which has still to be read and voted upon by the Council]

St Patrick’s Day Outdoor Event 2006
Monitoring Report

Institute of Irish Studies
Queen’s University Belfast

Contents

1. Terms of Reference

2. Methods

3. Rituals Symbols and St Patrick’s Day

4. Relevant policy documents

5. Chronology of St Patrick’s Day in Belfast 1998-2006

6. Media coverage preceding the event

7. Postal survey of perceptions and expectations of the event

8. St Patrick’s Day 2006: Chronology of events on the day

9. Onsite survey of perceptions and experiences of the event

10. Media coverage of the event

11. Summary of findings

12. Conclusions

13. Recommendations for future events

Appendices Acknowledgements

During the course of this research we have received much help from a range of political representatives, from officers at Belfast City Council and from a number of organisations involved in St Patrick’s Day in Belfast. We are grateful to all those who have assisted us. Executive Summary
On 4th July 2005 BCC agreed to fund and organise the 2006 St Patrick’s Day event. The Council agreed that:
It should take the lead role in planning, designing and delivering an inclusive outdoor event to mark St Patrick’s Day in 2006 as a key event within the ‘Celebrate Belfast’ programme;
The event should be held in Custom House Square, a purpose built entertainment space, which is fully serviced and designed with outdoor events in mind;
The same terms and conditions and site management processes that apply to all other current Council events should apply to the 2006 St. Patrick’s Day event;
The Council should commit the sum of £70,000 towards the event, in addition to the sum of £25,000 being awarded by the Arts Council;
The 2006 event should be run as a pilot, to be evaluated independently by an appropriate person/body with relevant professional expertise, to assess its potential to become an annual event within the Council’s events calendar.

The Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University was approached in January 2006 to undertake the independent evaluation and produce a report of findings for the Council.
To assess to what degree St Patrick’s Day 2006 events in Belfast, funded by the City Council, offer opportunities for all sections of communities to become involved
To place this in the context of the history of St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Belfast since 1998 and the limitations placed upon organisers in preparing for the event.
To explore the potential for future publicly funded St Patrick’s Day events.

Conclusions

The Carnival occurred in a relatively tense political atmosphere in which the Council’s message of inclusiveness was largely ignored.
This year’s St Patrick’s Day Carnival in Belfast was not a fully inclusive event, but neither was it an exclusive, intimidating one. There was little evidence of a substantial attendance from Protestant communities. Using our onsite survey as a rough indicator, only 31 of 257 (or 12%) surveyed indicated that they were Protestant.
Those attending the event, including those from the Protestant community, generally indicated that they viewed it positively. The majority of respondents to our onsite survey thought the event was welcoming and a family day out. This overall positive perception of the event was characteristic of Protestants as well as Catholics.
Protestants did tend to express dissatisfaction with the presence of political symbols and some reported that they felt uncomfortable at the event. Although as noted above, reactions to the level of political symbols was mixed for Catholics as well as Protestants, on average Protestants expressed greater dissatisfaction. Moreover, although 45% of Protestants reported feeling comfortable at the event, 29% reported feeling uncomfortable.
The number of political symbols on display at the event was lower than in previous years and low in absolute terms.
Although briefed to ‘persuade and encourage’ individuals to replace political symbols at CHS stewards were not successful in this task.
The strategy of BCC to introduce alternative symbols in the form of St Patrick’s Carnival Shamrock t-shirts, Cross of St Patrick and multicoloured shamrock flags was a partial success.
This year, nationalists have demonstrated a willingness to curb the number of political symbols at the event
With the short time-frame, there were organisational as well as political difficulties in delivering an inclusive event.
Despite these factors, the Council would appear to have gone some way towards creating the welcoming environment in which a properly inclusive event could take place in the future.
More broadly, public opinion does not appear to be as polarised as media and political commentary suggests and some latitude for cooperation between the communities exists.
Protestant community groups have already demonstrated some willingness to take part within forums such as the Beat Initiative’s steering group.
The message of inclusiveness now needs to be promoted and the Good Relations strategy actively pursued if BCC wishes to take the event forward.

Recommendations

Planning Issues

Provide a longer period for planning and preparation for the Carnival events
Facilitate long-term networking between organisers and participating groups, especially with community groups in Protestant areas.
Take advantage of the event occurring at the weekend in 2007 and 2008.
St Patrick’s Day should be made a public holiday.
Consider courting sponsorship for next year.

Media

In order to reconstruct the debate in favour of inclusiveness, BCC should actively promote its own message of good relations, and shared space, against other opinions of the event.
This requires a positive message which promotes inclusiveness rather than a ‘watering down’ of a nationalist event.
Any regulation of symbols should be accompanied by a clear rationale of ‘shared space’ to prevent misinterpretation as being anti-Irish.
Realistic goals for the inclusiveness of the event need to be agreed beforehand. Establishing clear criteria by which the inclusiveness of the event can be judged would both help prevent conflicting interpretations of the event afterwards.
The press should be encouraged to take a more responsible attitude to reporting the Carnival.

Symbols

Dressing the concert area to give a green and white theme to the entire event would make political symbols less obvious.
More, and larger, Council flags should be distributed as a positive highly visible alternative to any political symbols. These could be handed out at City Hall to undercut street sellers.
The Council could consider promoting the green shamrock as a positive symbol with appeal to both Catholics and Protestants. The City Council might consider investing in a logo incorporating ‘Belfast’ and ‘the Shamrock’ to brand the event in the city over a number of years.
BCC should liaise with appropriate sports organisations regarding the use of sports shirts as sectarian symbols.

1. Terms of Reference

1.1 On 4th July 2005 BCC agreed to fund and organise the 2006 St Patrick’s Day event. The Council agreed that:

It should take the lead role in planning, designing and delivering an inclusive outdoor event to mark St Patrick’s Day in 2006 as a key event within the ‘Celebrate Belfast’ programme;
The event should be held in Custom House Square, a purpose built entertainment space, which is fully serviced and designed with outdoor events in mind;
The same terms and conditions and site management processes that apply to all other current Council events should apply to the 2006 St. Patrick’s Day event;
The Council should commit the sum of £70,000 towards the event, in addition to the sum of £25,000 being awarded by the Arts Council;
The 2006 event should be run as a pilot, to be evaluated independently by an appropriate person/body with relevant professional expertise, to assess its potential to become an annual event within the Council’s events calendar.

The Institute of Irish Studies was approached in January 2006 to undertake the independent evaluation and produce a report of findings for the Council.

1.2 Evaluation Aims:

To assess to what degree St Patrick’s Day 2006 events in Belfast, funded by the City Council, offer opportunities for all sections of communities to become involved

To place this in the context of the history of St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Belfast since 1998 and the limitations placed upon organisers in preparing for the event.

To explore the potential for future publicly funded St Patrick’s Day events.

The evaluation of the parade/carnival and stage presentations funded by Belfast City Council in 2006 will cover the following areas:

A brief history of the event to provide context for the evaluation (including an overview of previous evaluations).
A brief discussion of the issues common in organising major public events.
A review of the guidelines, mechanisms, and plans put in place for St Patrick’s Day 2006 in Belfast.
A small attitude survey to give some indication of the perceptions that surround the events, particularly those within a Protestant constituency.
An overview of the events which take place on March 17th 2006, including looking at issues of stewarding, the use of flags and emblems, alcohol and street trading.
An examination of press reports before and after the event.
An evaluation of the success of the event in terms of inclusiveness, given the limitations discussed, and offer suggestions that make take the event forward in subsequent years.

2. Methods

Literature Review: A general review of the theoretical background concerning public rituals was conducted, with a specific focus on the use of symbols. In addition, the relevant legislation and policy documents pertaining to the St Patrick’s Day event were collated.
Interviews with stakeholders: Twenty interviews with all of the main political and community groupings with an interest in this year’s St Patrick’s Day event were conducted.
Newspaper coverage analysis: Press coverage in the main local daily and Sunday newspapers were collected throughout the period of the evaluation. These were supplemented by the BCC’s newspaper archive of coverage of the event.
Postal survey: In order to assess popular opinion of the event beyond the media, a small scale survey was conducted in two strategically selected areas of Belfast resulting in 76 completed questionnaires.
Monitoring of events: On the day of the event a team of 10 observers were tactically placed around the procession route and Custom House Square. Observers recorded the events as they took place by taking notes, photographs, video footage and performing systematic counts of those in attendance as well as of political symbols.
Onsite survey: Two teams of three researchers were placed along the route of the procession and at Custom House Square to distribute questionnaires to onlookers. This resulted in 257 completed forms.
Television coverage analysis: Four television reports of the event were recorded and analysed.
3. Rituals, Symbols and St Patrick’s Day

Why is public ritual important?
3.1 This section seeks to provide some theoretical background as to why public ritual and celebrations, like Belfast’s city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, attains such an important role in civic life. In this sense, it will elaborate how public ritual, rather than a focus for creating a sense of a unified community for groups it is more often a site of conflict and acrimony as competing groups seek control over the meaning, economic resources and performance of the ritual. Indeed, it is fair to say that contrary to its common image as a benign, cosmopolitan, and inclusive celebration of community and identity, as evinced in the oft-quoted statement, ‘on St. Patrick’s Day everybody is Irish for the Day’, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations across the globe are typically characterised by profound intra-community acrimony – by battles over power, fights over who gets to retell the story, and from which position.

Ritual and Community Identity
3.2 Public ritual can help create a sense of community for groups. Theoretically, this has been most clearly elaborated in what Victor Turner (1969) called the “communitas”. The communitas is the construction of a relatively undifferentiated community, or even communion of equal individuals. The process of communitas moves always to universality and ever greater unity, an identification among members which is so absolute as to be tantamount to the stripping away of all the social problems which would otherwise divide and distinguish them (Cohen 1985: 55).

3.3 Public spectacle and ritual can thus provide a form of social glue to hold a community together. For groups characterised by divisive hierarchical roles (ethnicity, religion, class, gender, age) the performance of public spectacle can issue unified sentiments and redress corrosive conflict within the community. Ritual, in this sense, is viewed as particularly important in the construction of a unified collectivity because of its capacity to strengthen social identity and people’s sense of geographical location, the very means through which they experience community (Cohen 1985: 50). Consider New York’s St. Patrick’s Day, west London’s Notting Hill Carnival, New Orleans’s Mardi Gras in order to gain an insight into how these public celebrations strive to celebrate a unified community located in a specific geographical place

3.4 Ritual and public spectacle is also often used by social elites in an effort to preserve and defend their powerful position over subordinate groups by stressing that power and hierarchical differences are normal and even timeless. These rituals attempt to clearly outline and thus help preserve the power-relations in a society. These rituals are typically highly formalised, replete with hierarchical roles, which seek to reproduce social ideals through disciplined performance and by eradicating ambiguity.

Why do groups care about ritual?
3.5 However, whilst public ritual and spectacle can help imagine a unified community, ritual is also typically characterised by conflict and political struggle. This political struggle often involves competing groups seeking to claim ownership over the meaning, economy and performance of the ritual. Rather than a homogeneous phenomenon, the expression of a unified community, public ritual and spectacle is culturally and historically polymorphic.

3.6 Public ritual, in Abner Cohen’s (1993: xi) phrase, is a ‘masquerade politics’, in which politics is covertly articulated. What is at stake for participants fighting over the meaning of celebrations is that the celebrations expose in a veiled form the opposition, confrontation, subversion, and resistance that outlines the differential access to resources and power that defines these actors’ social and political positions. In other words, because there is so much at stake in the control of public spectacle: temporary dominance of public space, mass media coverage, the allocation of economic resources, not to forget, an opportunity to present your side of the story, public celebrations are an extremely important site to gain political mastery over.

3.7 Public spectacle always involves contestation. This contestation is not exclusively expressed through direct political confrontation and violence between groups; conflicting groups struggle to express celebrations as having a particular identity. An example of this would be the New Orleans Mardi Gras. Multinational sponsors, local government, tourist companies, business leaders, African-American cultural-political groups, all define the celebration differently, and this divergence of opinion has led to conflict between Mardi Gras organisers and performers. Conflict has most especially arisen at Mardi Gras over whether ‘traditional’ performances of nudity are suitable for a civic celebration. This articulation of difference regarding how public celebration should be performed is essentially ‘a conflict of nomination’ (Melucci 1996: 161): ‘a conflict over the meaning of words and things in a society in which the name to an increasing degree supplants reality’. The manner in which we nominate things, according to Melucci (1996), has the power to determine their very existence.

3.8 St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, often marked by the wearing of the green, drinking alcohol, huge public parades and church attendance, appear at face value to be a form of public spectacle which creates an inclusive brand of Irishness. Many parade organisers and sponsors of celebrations actively encourage the idea that St. Patrick’s Day is a palimpsest celebration or a neutral grid on which a range of narratives of Irishness can be established. The seeming inclusivity incarnate in St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations allow historians Cronin and Adair to note with a degree of satisfaction that “St. Patrick’s Day does not appear particularly tribal” (2002: xv).

3.9 However, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations across the globe are also often highly rancorous. Notably, rather than presuming St. Patrick’s day spectacles are a neutral grid on which social differences are disregarded, contemporary imaginings of ethnic and national identities are cause for conflict. It is thus typical that St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are characterised by “conflicts of nomination”, the struggle to define the meaning and character of St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations. Rarely characterised by straightforward inclusivity, St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations are often driven by intra-event strife, a dynamic tension between inclusiveness and exclusiveness, consensus and discord, conflict and alliance.

3.10 Even in locations like the New York City celebrations, where a monolithic Irish-American community is often imagined, different narrations of the Irish-American community came together to construct differences when the Irish Lesbian and Gay Association was prohibited from marching by The Ancient Order of Hibernians, the parade organisers. On the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean, St. Patrick’s Day marks for slave descendants a slave revolt in 1768, when the slavemasters were gathered together to commemorate the Patron Saint of Ireland. The reinvention of the island as another emerald isle for tourists, with six-day long St. Patrick’s Day celebrations becoming the focus for tourism, has come into conflict with islanders who claim that the festivities obscure the island’s slave past. In London, the instigation in 2002 of a major St. Patrick’s celebration routed through central London and funded by the Greater London Authority as a celebration of ‘multicultural London’, became beset by conflict between some London-Irish groups who wanted the spectacle to represent a celebration of local London-Irish identity and multinational sponsors who wanted to use the festivities to advertise and sell alcoholic beverages.

Symbols and Public Ritual
3.11 Public ritual is an important space for the defining and redefining of symbols. The appearance of symbols, such as flags, banners and placards at public rituals, is indicative of groups trying to mark the identity of celebrations. Large gatherings can also act as powerful emotional moments at which symbols can be used to act against opposing groups. The parading of the Irish Tricolour or the Union Jack can, in certain contexts, provoke offence by acting to exclude groups who may view the symbols as threatening. They are not simply national flags.

3.12 Symbols in themselves do not have any intrinsic, ‘natural’ meaning. The context of a symbols meaning is given in part by the social field into which it is incorporated, the practices with which it articulates and is made to resonate. What matters is not the intrinsic or historically fixed objects of a culture, but the state of play in cultural relations. In other words, it is groups working in a political framework who impart meaning into symbols.

3.13 The meaning of symbols is also subject to diverse interpretations. Symbols are multivocal, that is they have layers of meaning. They do not communicate a single proposition, but rather a collection of propositions, ideas and emotions. Different people will evoke different meanings in the same symbol. A person may see a number of meanings in the same symbol. The Red Hand of Ulster can be viewed as a loyalist emblem, a GAA badge, or the crest of the O’Neill family.

3.14 The meaning of symbol can change over time. They can change, sometimes dramatically, depending on how they are used and who uses them. St. Patrick is a good example of this. In the late eighteenth century St. Patrick was part of official British and Protestant state symbolism. By the mid-point the nineteenth century St. Patrick was almost only recognised by Irish Roman Catholic Nationalists.

3.15 Northern Ireland provides a perfect example of how St. Patrick has become a focus of diverse meanings. In Ireland St. Patrick is a saint recognised and celebrated by both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches since the sixteenth-century. During the Reformation St. Patrick became coloured by sectarian interests (Walker 1996) when both churches sought to trace their lineage directly back to the saint. The Roman Catholic Church made a concerted attempt to link the achievements of Patrick with the sanction of Rome and the Pope’s subsequent consecration of Patricius further confirmed the connection. The Protestant Church of Ireland, on the other hand, focused its energy on tracing its local origins to Patrick (Cronin and Adair 2002:xxviii). In more recent times, reflecting the growing spirit of the ecumenical and rapprochement movements, St. Patrick has been identified as a shared symbol for Irish Christians with mixed faith parades and church services in Downpatrick Northern Ireland, the reputed burial site for Patrick.

3.16 One reason for the contested nature of St. Patrick’s Day is that St. Patrick himself appears to be something of a portmanteau figure: his ‘essential’ meaning being prone to conflicting representations. Indeed few facts, if any, exist about Patrick. Historians still dispute, not simply the historical detail and religious meaning of Patrick’s life, but whether there may have been as many as five Patricks or perhaps none at all. What information we have on St. Patrick largely appears in the form of myth and legend, which is rich in Christian allegory. The story, for instance, that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, an allegory of the defeat of paganism, or St. Patrick’s usage of the Shamrock to explain the paradox of the Holy Trinity derives from testimonies such as the Confessio, his spiritual autobiography. But this mostly concerns internal rather than external experience. Much of what is reported about the life of St. Patrick is taken from historians, such as Muirchú, who wrote centuries after his death, was often a hybrid concoction of historical fact dispersed with allusion and metaphor.

3.17 St. Patrick, as Harrison (2002) observes, is thus the type of symbol which is often the focus of “proprietary rights”. Similar to cultural appropriation, this refers to the struggle of competing groups “to monopolize ethnic identities and their symbols, and with struggles across ethnic boundaries for the control of heritage and cultural property” (Harrison 2002). The focus of vying groups proclaiming ownership over its putative essential meaning, acrimony surrounding St. Patrick’s Day refutes the assumption that an affiliation to mutual symbols “is necessarily a source of social cohesion” (Harrison 2002: 211). Instead, “shared cultural symbolism can give rise to competition over its ownership or use, and that this competition can play an important role in defining ethnic boundaries” (Harrison 2002: 211).

3.18 Conclusions: What might theory about ritual and symbols tell us about St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations in Belfast?
Because there is so much at stake in public celebrations (public money, media visibility, control over public space), multiple groups strive to claim ownership over events.
Conflicts over public events is common around the world and attempting to resolve differences inherent in events is very often a role played by legal or civic authorities.
Public ritual should not be seen as peripheral to political debates but as a fundamental part of people’s emotional attachment, as individuals, to political/cultural groups and communities.
We should not lose sight of the idea that ritual can be perceived and interpreted in different ways by individuals and groups.

4. Relevant Policy Documents and Legislation

A number of policy documents and pieces of legislation might be considered to be relevant to the St Patrick’s Day event in Belfast

Legislation
4.1 Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998
75. – (1) A public authority shall in carrying out its functions relating to Northern Ireland have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity-
(a) between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation; (b) between men and women generally; (c) between persons with a disability and persons without; and (d) between persons with dependants and persons without.
(2) Without prejudice to its obligations under subsection (1), a public authority shall in carrying out its functions relating to Northern Ireland have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.

4.2 If one considers the Carnival and Custom House Square event as a working environment then it may come under the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 which makes discrimination on the grounds of religious belief and political opinion unlawful both in the work place and in the provision of goods, facilities and services. The Fair Employment Code of Practice states that employers are required to identify any practices that do not provide equality of opportunity (1.1.2). They should:

Promote a good and harmonious working environment and atmosphere in which no worker feels under threat or intimidated because of his or her religious belief or political opinion, e.g. prohibit the display of flags, emblems, posters, graffiti, or the circulation of materials, or the deliberate articulation of slogans or songs which are likely to give offence or case apprehension among particular groups of employees. (5.2.2)

The Code of Practice suggests that Employers might take affirmative action by considering:

ending displays at the workplace of flags, emblems, posters, graffiti, or the circulation of materials, or the deliberate articulation of slogans or songs which are likely to give offence to, or cause apprehension among, any one section of the population.

Policy Documents

4.3 In 2001 the Community Relations Council produced Guidelines for a Cultural Diversity Policy: an Advocacy Document. This recommended that events should have:
Widely accepted location
Inclusivity and broad participation
Evident commitment to encouraging understanding and celebrating cultural diversity
Avoidance of use of symbols or signage that may be regarded as offensive or triumphalist
Event management and stewarding according to best practice standards.

4.4 Belfast City Council’s Good Relations Strategy of February 2004 included the following statements:

‘Our vision of this Good Relations Strategy is for a stable, tolerant, fair and pluralist society, where individuality is respected and diversity is celebrated, in an inclusive manner.’

‘In Belfast’s highly segmented social pattern there are no quick fixes and even discussion about religion, politics or race becomes a very sensitive issue. People are very unwilling to raise issues of division and conflict when unsure of the background and views of others.

Public bodies, including the Council, have largely accepted this reality and have developed a systematic response to living with division, creating a neutral work environment and providing services according to traditional community boundaries. This, however, inevitably results in the embedding of these divisions in an institutional form.’

4.5 In March 2005 the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister produced A Shared Future a policy and strategic framework document for Good Relations in Northern Ireland. A Shared Future includes the following statements:

Section 1.2 Aims and Objectives
1.2.2 Policy objectives (including)
Facilitate the development of a shared community where people wish to learn, live, work and play together
Support cultural projects which highlight the complexity and overlapping nature of identities and their wider global connections
Section 1.4 Fundamental Principles
1.4.1 Separate but equal is not an option. Parallel living and the provision of parallel services are unsustainable both morally and economically

4.6 Of direct relevance is Belfast City Council’s Terms and Conditions of Entry to Events (Appendix I). In relation to symbols these state:

Flags, emblems or paraphernalia of a political, sectarian, racist or partisan nature will not be permitted on site.

4.7 In addition Laganside Corporation, owners of the Custom House Square site, state:
Flags, emblems, posters. All such material, including those of a political or sectarian nature, is ABSOLUTELY forbidden in ALL circumstances on the Corporation’s premises.
5. St Patrick’s Day Belfast: Background

March 1998 The first St Patrick’s Day festival at Belfast city centre was held. Festival organisers had barred uniformed bands, party political banners and political speeches, however, the predominance of nationalist symbolism allied with the starting points for the parades to the city centre helped create the impression that this was a republican celebration.

The News Letter reported the display of flags representing the Republican prisoners’ group Saoirse. Unionists also claimed that there had been sectarian attacks on Protestant children by those attending the City Hall event. At the same time Nationalists claimed that the event was very successful.

Following the 1998 celebration political and popular debate in the media highlighted the gulf in interpretation of what was entailed in expressions of Irishness, how this should be represented in any St Patrick’s Day celebration and, in particular, the use of the Tricolour.

May 1998 Belfast City Council organised a meeting of community groups from across Belfast to discuss plans for the following year. The meeting agreed that the event had great potential to promote tourism in Belfast and that the name of the event would be changed to the St Patrick’s Day Carnival. It was proposed that a number of processions from across the city should meet up at the City Hall. On the sensitive issue of flag displays it noted;

It was agreed that to censor flags, of any type, could be counter-productive and nugatory but it was agreed that the official flag for the carnival should be a St Patrick’s flag with Belfast City Council tourism promotion logo superimposed. These flags would be distributed to participants and spectators as a promotional item for the event. As was the case this year no political slogans or emblems would be permitted in the parade. (Belfast City Council minutes E657)

July 1998 A further meeting of community groups was attended by representatives of organisations from both Protestant and Catholic areas of Belfast and by a representative from the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities. This meeting concluded that accommodation could be reached which would allow greater cross-community participation in 1999 although it was still likely that a smaller proportion of people from the Protestant community would be involved. A successful parade in 1999 could, however, lead to a bigger and more representative parade in 2000.

12 August 1998 The Tourism and Promotion of Belfast Sub Committee held a meeting to discuss plans for the 1999 St Patrick’s Day celebrations. The meeting was generally optimistic in tone and it was agreed to establish a Steering Committee composed of representatives of roughly equal numbers of organisations from Protestant and Catholic areas. The Council sub-committee also agreed to provide £50,000 to cover part of the cost of organising the celebrations.

9 November 1998 The St Patrick’s Day Celebrations Committee agreed that the theme of the celebrations would be ‘earth, wind and fire’. Committee co-chairman Lee Reynolds of the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council, however, noted that the Committee was unlikely to achieve the full involvement of Protestant communities – mainly due to the fact that most state schools were open on St Patrick’s Day.

16 November 1998 The Belfast City Council representative on the St Patrick’s Day Carnival Committee noted that he had informed Councillors that the groups might decide to split funding and go their separate ways. A number of proposals on the timing of a parade and guidelines were suggested but none received cross-community support. (Belfast City Council: Briefing Document)

30 November 1998 After failing to agree on the key issues of the timing and date of the parade and guidelines for participation those representing unionist area community groups withdrew from the meeting stating that they did not consider the parade to be cross-community. Nationalist area community group representatives responded that they did not consider the committee dissolved and continued with the meeting.

1 February 1999 The Council decided not to provide funding for the 1999 St Patrick’s Day Carnival. The Carnival was launched independently the following day.

2000 Belfast City Council decided not to fund either the St Patrick’s Day Carnival or St Patrick’s Heritage events on the grounds that it did not provide a strong enough cross-community element. The Council decision faced a legal challenge from the StPDCC on the grounds that it was contrary to Article 28 of the Fair Employment and Treatment Order (1998). The Court found that the StPDCC had failed to show that they had been treated less favourably than the St Patrick’s Heritage Association and the claim was dismissed. (Belfast St Patrick’s Day Carnival Committee versus Belfast City Council)

March 2001 A report from the St Patrick’s Heritage Association (Celebrating Patrick: A report into attitudes within the unionist community of Belfast to celebrating Saint Patrick) criticises the lack of inclusivity at the City Hall. The report was in turn criticised by Caitriona Ruane of the St Patrick’s Day Carnival Committee.

17 March 2002 An attempt to add a humorous element to the Belfast event was criticised by the News Letter:

Men dressed in black berets and dark glasses, a form of garb worn by the IRA at funerals and demonstrations, added a sinister aspect to a St Patrick’s Day parade yesterday. The men waved to the crowds in Belfast city centre as they drove along in a white car marked “Garda” on the side. Although the stunt was good-humoured, it added a deeper shade of green too an event which has largely failed to appeal to Protestants. (‘Men in black cast shadow on Green day’ News Letter 18 March 2002)

February 2003 Belfast City Council adopts a Good Relations Strategy. In relation to festivals it states (in part):

The implementation of the code of practice would seek to ensure that the events would be non-threatening and that the organisers would have to illustrate that they included an opportunity for input from both the major communities and other groups within the City. The selection of a neutral venue, the availability of safe access and ensuring that there was a planned welcome for all visitors could make the event inclusive.

12 December 2003 The Policy and Resources Committee adopted a recommendation from the Council’s Good Relations Steering Panel that St Patrick’s Day funding should support an indoor concert and provide grant aid for small scale community events (eventually totalling just over £22,000).

5 January 2004 Belfast City Council ratifies the policy adopted by the Policy and Resources Committee in December.

2004 Belfast City Council voted not to fund the St Patrick’s Day Carnival.

17 March 2004 An event, organised by the St Patrick’s Carnival Committee, is held outside the City Hall. The Irish News, reported a generally good-natured atmosphere at the City Hall outdoor concert, however, trouble broke out after the conclusion of the concert in the city’s main shopping area several hundred yards from where the concert had taken place and later at the Peter’s Hill area of the lower Shankill. A loyalist car bomb was also found at University Street shortly after 8pm on St Patrick’s Day. On stage drinking by performer Shane McGowan attracts criticism.

24 September 2004 A report on that year’s celebrations was discussed at a BCC Policy and Resource Committee meeting. The debate over the flying of Tricolours and what was an appropriate celebration of ‘Irishness’ on St Patrick’s Day appeared no closer to resolution (Belfast City Council minutes B2966-2967).

10 December 2004 The Policy and Resources Committee agreed that, if necessary, the Council take the lead in organising a major outdoor event on St Patrick’s Day in 2006 to mark the City Hall’s Centenary Year.

Policy and Resources Committee agreed criteria to be used in allocating Council funding for an outdoor public event to mark St Patrick’s Day:
Widely accepted location
Inclusivity and broad participation
Evident commitment to encouraging understanding and celebrating cultural diversity
Avoidance of use of symbols and signage that may regarded as offensive or triumphalist
Event management and stewarding according to best practice standards.

2005 Relations between Belfast City Council and the Carnival organisers saw an improvement. The Carnival organisers had made renewed attempts to make the event more cross-community, including the adoption of a multi-coloured shamrock as the Carnival’s official symbol. A £30,000 grant to the Carnival had also been approved in principle by the Good Relations and Policy and Resources committees. Councillor Billy Hutchinson of the PUP supported the allocation of the grant stating that the Carnival organisers had genuinely tried to reach out to Protestants and that by not funding that year’s event the Council was, ‘sending out all the wrong signals’. (‘PUP councillor slams funding decision’ Irish News 5 February 2005)

14 February 2005 A Council meeting voted not to fund the StPDCC event with Councillor Billy Hutchinson as the only non-nationalist to support funding. Alliance Councillor Naomi Long recognised that membership of the Carnival Committee had changed recently and there had been a more positive engagement with the Council in the previous month but, ‘to fund the parade directly, we need more than good intentions – we need to see substantive progress on key issues … Hopefully, we can continue over the next 12 months to develop this co-operation and have a truly inclusive, council funded event in 2006.’ (‘Alliance compromise agreed for St Patrick’s Day’ www.allianceparty.org.news)

The Council authorised its officers to engage in discussions with the 2005 event organisers in an effort to co-ordinate and co-operate in respect of street trading, alcohol by-laws and health and safety issues. St Patrick’s Carnival Committee representatives co-operated fully with Council officers in this regard.

17 March 2005 The year’s event was more child-oriented and a sizable proportion of the crowd was made up of children and parents. Numbers at the event were estimated to be approximately 3,000-4,000 (Irish News 18 March 2005). The tenor of the event was still largely nationalist with (as in previous years) many individuals wearing Glasgow Celtic, Republic of Ireland and GAA shirts. More people appeared to wear shamrocks than had been the case in the previous year.

The only flag on display among the crowd was the Irish Tricolour. The organisers had made some efforts to make the year’s celebration more cross-community and had created a multi-coloured shamrock as an emblem. Individuals handed out copies of this (on A4 paper) to members of the crowd. This symbol would later be adopted by Belfast City Council for use in the 2006 event.

24 June 2005 A report from the Good Relations Manager, adopted by the Good Relations Steering Panel (on 10 June), recommended the Council take the lead in delivering an inclusive outdoor event for St Patrick’s Day 2006. Terms and conditions of entry would be the same as for any other Council organised event (Appendix I). The policy is adopted by the Policy and Resources Committee and accepted by Belfast City Council on 5 July.

5 July 2005 Belfast City Council voted to provide £70,000 towards an ‘inclusive’ St Patrick’s Day event in 2006 with the event to be assessed independently for its potential to become an annual event. The outdoor event was to be held at the recently developed Custom House Square area as part of the Celebrate Belfast programme which was to run from late 2005 until the end of 2006.

5 September 2005 BCC held a public consultation meeting on the question of organising an outdoor St Patrick’s Day event. Consensus was reached on a variety of key issues including:
All represented participants would actively promote symbol criteria to help make the event work so long as it was truly inclusive.
St Patrick’s Day 2006 should be a participative inclusive family day out.
The idea of a carnival procession was raised. Feedback on the idea suggested that a procession
…provides opportunity for the people of Belfast to participate, join together, and feel part of their city. Work together, walk together, celebrate together.
…a carnival parade and carnival atmosphere is much more inclusive than a pop concert which doesn’t appeal to everyone.
Protestant community would not take part in a parade, at this stage, maybe next year.

9 September 2005 A report from the Good Relations Manager outlined the current position on the St Patrick’s Day event and includes the Council’s standard terms and conditions of entry to their events.

23 September 2005 A report from the Good Relations and Events Managers outlined a proposed format and layout for a Council organised outdoor event on St Patrick’s Day. This included an estimate of costs and Terms and Conditions of entry. The report noted that the consultation process found that the Council criteria on symbols and emblems were acceptable, the multi-coloured shamrock symbol was acceptable and that there was a possibility of ensuring full community participation through, for example, a carnival procession.

The Policy and Resources Committee deferred consideration of the report until further discussion with each of the political party groupings had taken place on issues such as terms and conditions of entry, security in and around the venue and a proposed carnival procession.

21 October 2005 A report from the Good Relations and Events Managers to the Policy and Resources Committee noted that following consultation with community groups that there was consensus about ensuring full community participation through, for example, a carnival procession. The Council had been offered £25,000 by the Arts Council for NI for artistic based activity around St Patrick’s Day. The finance was conditional on a similar event being created as part of the 12 July celebrations.
The Policy and Resources Committee noted issues which had been discussed at the consultation meeting and noted, ‘there was the possibility of ensuring full community participation through, for example, a carnival procession.’

The meeting also noted that ‘an organisation such as the Beat Initiative, which has a good local cross-community network, could be approached to organise such a carnival procession.’

6 November 2005 A Sunday Times article by Liam Clarke ‘St Patrick’s Day gets a PC re-brand’ reported that t-shirts would be offered to cover up football shirts at the St Patrick’s Day outdoor concert, ‘There is also expected to be a ban on people painting their faces green, white and orange, or in the colours of the Union Jack.’ The same report noted that the Cross of St Patrick consisted of a white cross on a blue background! The report carried a large photograph of a young girl (with pig-tails) wearing a Celtic shirt with a ‘Banned’ stamp over the photograph.

8 November 2005 A Belfast Telegraph story by Claire McNeilly entitled, ‘St Patrick’s Day … but no Shamrocks.’ stated that, ‘alcohol, green shamrocks, national flags, partisan face painting and football tops are to be banned.’

9 November 2005 The Belfast Telegraph morning edition article carried an article entitled, ‘A rainbow shamrock is patronising lunacy’.

9 November 2005 A meeting between Council officials and members of the St Patrick’s Day Carnival Committee reflected on recent media coverage which had put heavy emphasis on the line that certain items were to be ‘censored’ or ‘banned’. It was agreed that Terms and Conditions for the event should apply to all future Council events and would be included on all flyers and advertisements for such events.

Officials also noted that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland had informed them that funding for St Patrick’s Day events and the proposed Orange Fest were not linked. It was agreed that Events Manager would draw up a proposal regarding the Beat Initiative project in order to draw down Arts Council funding for a St Patrick’s Day parade.

10 November 2005 A letter from Conor Maskey of the St Patrick’s Day Carnival Committee in the Irish News criticised stated, ‘Belfast City Council does not ban emblems or try to impose a dress code in other events they organise- such as Proms in the Park. They should not try to do so for next year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations.’

13 November 2005 A Sunday World article entitled ‘Shamrock of a plan’ attacked plans for a ‘politically correct’ St Patrick’s Day celebration. It also criticised the use of a multi-coloured shamrock symbol.

18 November 2005 A report from the Good Relations Manager to the Policy and Resources Committee noted that the Arts Council offered up to £25,000 towards the St Patrick’s Day event. ‘The Events Manager will prepare the application to the Arts Council based on the incorporation into the event of a carnival element, to be organised by the east Belfast based Beat Initiative.’

On a vote of 6-5 the Policy and Resources Committee deferred funding for the St Patrick’s Day, ‘in view of the fact that security and other issues had not yet been resolved satisfactorily.’

28 November 2005 The Beat Initiative lodged a proposal with Belfast City Council with the objective of producing, ‘a lively, colourful, celebratory, carnival style parade that engages the diverse citizens of Belfast and that promotes good relations on St Patrick’s Day 2006.’

29 November 2005 A second consultation evening was held by BCC. The Events Manager noted that Arts Council funding terms and conditions had been changed and funding for St Patrick’s Day was no longer attached to 12 July funding.

The groups were alarmed that the process of organising the outdoor event had been ‘halted’ by the Policy and Resources Committee. During the discussion mention was made of a press article for which ‘the accompanying photographs had been misleading’. Other agreed points included the need for an early decision to maximise preparation time and the need to come together to discuss issues of inclusiveness.

1 December 2005 A BCC Council meeting agreed that the Policy and Resources Committee should receive a deputation from the groups who had taken part in the consultation process.

9 December 2005 A Policy and Resources Committee meeting was addressed by individuals from across the community who had attended the second consultation meeting. The Committee voted 9-6 in favour of proceeding with the St Patrick’s Day Event.

4 January 2006 Council voted in favour of funding the event. Passed by one vote – unionist councillors voted against, nationalist and Alliance councillors voted in favour.

11 January 2006 A meeting of BCC officers from Events and Good Relations regarding St Patrick’s Day noted that, ‘approximately 400 participants from community groups around the city’ would take part in the parade. Green t-shirts with white writing and a white shamrock would be produced for handing out. Prices for St Patrick’s Cross flags and multi-coloured shamrocks would also be sourced.

24 January A third consultation evening was held. The Beat Initiative had been awarded the contract to organise the procession on the previous day and a steering group for the parade was being formed, with cross community participation. The group met on a regular basis to coordinate the event.

The Institute of Irish Studies QUB had been appointed as independent evaluators of the outdoor event.

The Events manager stated that football jerseys would not be confiscated but t-shirts would be offered to wear over them. There can be no guarantee that there would be no flags carried.
A community group representative noted that to get people from the Short Strand and Markets to go to the event would require a parade to the City centre.

8 February 2006 The second meeting of Parade steering group was held. Community representatives said there would be a procession from Short Stand and Markets, this had been decided the previous day.
Some t-shirts were to be distributed to community groups in advance of the procession.

25 February 2006 Serious rioting takes place in Dublin as protestors oppose a ‘Love Ulster’ demonstration.

27 February 2006 Radio Ulster headlines stated that Tricolours and alcohol were to be ‘banned’. BBC News Website 27 February ‘City plans for St Patrick’s Day’ reported that, ‘The council has banned alcohol and emblems, including flags, at the celebrations, which will cost £100,000.’ However the report later quoted Deputy Lord Mayor, Pat Convery [SDLP], as saying he hoped the parade on 17 March would be an inclusive event. “We are saying there should be no emblems or symbols that would be deemed as sectarian, racist, or anything that would be offensive to anyone,” he said. “We are depending on the citizens of this city to have good faith and to help us generate a situation whereby there will be a good event and all will feel welcome.”

6. Media coverage preceding the 2006 Belfast St Patrick’s Day event

6.1 Coverage of St Patrick’s Day in the media pre-2005.
St Patrick’s Day has been a site of symbolic struggle in the media over the duration of the funding controversy. In effect, both nationalists and unionists made claims about the ownership of the day, attempted to promote their own understanding of what the event should be about and sought to undermine competing claims. Broadly speaking, for the nationalist press, St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and the day should be centred on various expressions of Irishness, of which national symbols such as the Tricolour form a natural part. Positive parallels are often drawn with other St Patrick’s Day events in Dublin and across the world at which the expressions of Irish nationalism are unproblematic and the Belfast situation is presented as one in which nationalists are unfairly deprived of their national day.

In contrast, the unionist press often points out that St Patrick predates Irish nationalism and had no links to the Roman Catholic church and hence St Patrick’s Day has been hijacked by republicans. St Patrick’s Day is therefore in need of radical reform to remove elements of exclusive Irishness and in particular to regulate the usage of political symbols. Typically, articles from a unionist perspective reject the event as exclusive, draw parallels with Downpatrick as the ideal model of a neutral and Tricolour free event, or highlight other events which subvert the nationalist interpretation of St Patrick (eg Orange Order 17th March celebrations).

The end result of this coverage is a view of St Patrick’s Day as a ‘zero-sum’ situation, typical of many symbolic contests in identity conflicts, whereby the gains of one side are viewed as the losses of the other. At the poles of the dispute, some nationalist reports depict unionist objections as a threat to their Irish identity, while unionist reports depict the desire of nationalists to display Irishness as exclusive and sectarian. Therefore St Patrick’s Day has generally been depicted as a matter of possession and control rather than of shared celebration between the two communities.

6.2 July 5th 2005 press release and media reaction
Against this background BCC released information on 5th July 2005, concerning the agreement to organise and fund the 2006 St Patrick’s Day event. This was a positive statement in which the Council claimed that it would “address the controversy which has surrounded the St Patrick’s Day event in recent years and is determined to provide an inclusive event which can be enjoyed by everyone in the city, whatever their background… the event will be as inclusive as possible and all the residents of Belfast will feel comfortable attending it in 2006”. The statement made it clear that the initiative was undertaken by the Good Relations Steering Panel with a view to promoting better intercommunity relations in the city. Cllr Alex Maskey of the Policy and Resources committee was quoted in the release as endorsing the plan as a ‘major step forward’ and, though criticising the lack of funding in previous years, promoted the event as for ‘for all the people in Belfast’.

The significance of this message is that it departs radically from the widely held understandings of the event evident in media coverage of previous years. By casting the event as a collaborative project between the Council and the organising committee and presenting it as necessarily including all communities in Northern Ireland, it transcends the previous zero-sum equation and reformulates the event as a matter of constructive cooperation rather than as a power-struggle.

The media reaction to this release was predominantly in line with the message of the statement, with all articles linking funding to Council involvement in the organisation of the event and highlighting the desire to make the event inclusive to all communities in Belfast. All articles mentioned that there had been unionist concerns over previous events and that these were to be addressed in the 2006 arrangements. Though in general the coverage was positive, some articles were more enthusiastic than others as reflected in the variety of headlines: “St Patrick’s Day Relief” (Andersonstown News, 9th July), “Breakthrough in St Patrick’s Day Carnival Controversy” (Irish News, 6th July) “Council to Fund St Pat’s Day event” (News Letter, 7th July) and, perhaps more ambiguously, “Council’s Green Light for Carnival” (Belfast Telegraph, 6th July).

Moreover, there is some evidence that the new message of inclusivity and cooperation has not entirely replaced the older adversarial model of the event. The Andersonstown News cast the funding as a ‘victory’ for the carnival committee rather than as a collaborative success (Andersonstown News, 9th July). The editorial pointed out that funding for the event was long overdue and nationalists could now rightfully celebrate their national day. From this perspective the issue of inclusiveness is secondary and a matter of modifying the celebration of Irishness to include unionists “we will be reasonable and magnanimous when it comes to those aspects of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations that many unionists genuinely have trouble with”. In other words, St Patrick’s Day is the property of the nationalist community who will attempt to make unionists feel welcome, rather than both communities having an equal stake in the event.

In contrast, the Belfast Telegraph and News Letter both contained comments by a unionist councillor emphasising that previous years events were not inclusive or welcoming because of displays of Irish symbolism: “In the past these events have not been welcoming or inclusive. We want any future event to be free from the plethora of Irish Tricolours to reflect the culture and diversity of the city”. In other words, St Patrick’s Day is presented as the property of the Council and its role is to suppress expressions of Irish nationalism.

While such sentiments constituted a minority of the coverage, it is worth pointing out that these older ideas of power struggle and symbolic conflict remained at the fringes of the coverage at this stage.

6.3 November 2005 coverage
The St Patrick’s Day controversy reignited in November as information from the council discussions of the preparations for the event reached the press. In this period the tone of the media coverage changed and the BCC message of inclusiveness and cooperation was somewhat eclipsed by the issue of whether symbols would be banned at this year’s event.

Ridiculing the ban on symbols and emblems
The focus on the regulation of symbols effectively returned the discussion of St Patrick’s Day to issues of possession and control. An article in the Sunday Times (6th November) was perhaps the most sensational and least constructive in this regard. The report contained several factual inaccuracies, such as including shamrocks and face-painting among the symbols to be regulated, as well as confusing the flag of St Patrick with the St Andrew’s cross (presumably as both are ‘saltires’). These elements were presented in sensationalistic form with young girls with face-paints and Celtic tops pictured with ‘banned’ stamped across the photos.

In addition to sensationalising the ‘ban’, the article also undermined the good relations aspects of the BCC project. The regulation of symbols was presented negatively as a “PC-rebrand” rather than positively as part of a wider attempt to create a new cross-community event. This was compounded by a focus on the Arts Council funding of both St Patrick’s Day and the Twelfth of July Orangefest as constituting a direct equivalence between the events. Given the nature of the Twelfth of July as an overwhelmingly single-identity celebration which has never been claimed to be cross-community, this parallel did little to promote the understanding of St Patrick’s Day as inclusive. In effect, the article characterised the BCC proposals as a rather contrived attempt to domesticate a single identity event rather than create a new space for a shared celebration.

The extent to which this article had an impact on future press coverage is difficult to assess, though some of the errors concerning face-painting, the colours of the flag of St Patrick and the criticism of the multicoloured shamrock were directly reproduced in subsequent articles in other newspapers. Articles such as “A rainbow shamrock is patronising lunacy” (Belfast Telegraph, 9th November), “Shamrock of a plan” (Sunday World, 13th November), “St Patrick’s Day but no shamrocks” (Belfast Telegraph, 8th November) all focused largely on the impractical and unreasonable aspects of banning green shamrocks and wiping face-paints from children’s faces.

Dissent and conflicting messages
Another complicating factor in the coverage at this stage is that of disagreement between members of the Policy and Resources committee. On the 8th and 9th November the Belfast Telegraph and Irish News published several articles in which the disagreement between councillors was highlighted. From their reported comments, the councillors disagreed both on the essence and the practicalities of the event. In terms of the essence of the event, one unionist councillor is quoted as saying “Many people believe that St Patrick’s Day has been subverted by Republicans. There are those who aren’t about celebrating St Patrick, but are about celebrating the Irish Republic… I want to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, but I am not Irish” (Belfast Telegraph, 8th November). In contrast, a nationalist councillor is reported as saying that people would want to wear their nationalist colours (Belfast Telegraph, 8th November) and that ‘the day is all about Irish nationalism’ (Irish News, 9th November; though this was corrected in the next day’s edition, where the councillor said that his actual worlds were ‘an Irish national day’). In this way these councillors reproduced the longstanding debate over whether St Patrick’s Day is essentially an exclusive expression of Irishness or not.

Likewise their preferred plans for the day reflected their stance on the matter of Irishness (Belfast Telegraph, 8th November). For the unionist councillor, Irish symbols were the key barrier to an inclusive event: “Next year has to be an inclusive event, because in the past it has been so controversial … Our main concerns are flags and football jerseys”. For the nationalist councillor, the association of St Patrick’s Day with Irishness meant that the Tricolour had a place at the event and attempts to regulate symbols were ‘unnecessarily restrictive’: “Yes, promote a corporate logo, but you can’t enforce a ban… How could you have a St Patrick’s Day if you ban all Irish colours?”. Likewise, on the 10th November, a member of the Carnival Committee in a letter to the Irish News stated that the organising committee resisted attempts by councillors or anyone else to “tell people what they can and can’t wear” and pointed out that the Council funded The Proms, yet did not restrict the use of Union flags.

Given the conflicting and incompatible nature of comments from councillors and committee members it is unsurprising that more than one version of the BCC’s position on the issue of symbols began to circulate. In effect, the majority of reports took the ‘ban on symbols’ as official BCC policy, while a minority reported that this was not the case. As we shall see below, the effect of these contradictory messages was to set up to distinct expectations of what would happen on the day of the event.

6.4 January 2006 coverage
On 4th January the council voted by the narrowest of margins to go ahead with the funding of St Patrick’s Day. This was variously reported as a positive decision to back the event (Belfast Telegraph, 5th January); a failed attempt to stop funding (Irish News, 5th January); the defeat of the unionist side of the chamber (News Letter, 5th January). In all articles the debate is represented as a sectarian dispute with unionist concerns about security and inclusivity pitted against arguments from Alliance, SDLP and Sinn Fein that the event would be inclusive and safe.

Again reports differed in their understanding of the rationale for the regulation of symbols and exactly what might be regulated. One article in the Belfast Telegraph reports that “Alcohol, green shamrocks, partisan face-painting and football tops will be banned” (Belfast Telegraph, 5th January). The Irish News reports one unionist councillor’s security concerns about ‘who would police the crowd to ensure no political flags or football shirts would be present’. The News Letter reported another unionist councillor pointing out that the policy and resources committee had yet to tell people to “leave their Tricolours at home… Up to now Sinn Féin has fudged the issue and although we have produced guidelines for the day in relation to Tricolours and other flags, that is all they are, guidelines. We have serious reservations about whether it would be possible to enforced these guidelines and remain unconvinced” (4th January). However some effort was made to move the debate away from symbols “This is not about flags, this is about Belfast City council’s centenary year and organising something as a celebration of our patron saint” (SDLP councillor, quoted in Belfast Telegraph, 5th January)

6.5 Coverage in the lead up to St Patrick’s Day
The symbols issue dominated the substantive coverage of the event. The issue of inclusiveness also occurred frequently, although this tended to be tied to the issue of symbolism rather than receiving coverage in its own right. The multicultural dimension of the event and the depiction of the day as a family day out both received less attention. In addition, as the day of the event approached, the coverage became more specific to the details of what would actually happen at the expense of discussing the nature of the day or what the event should celebrate. Hence discussions of St Patrick and comparisons with other events were much less prevalent than in the November coverage.

The symbols debate in the lead up to St Patrick’s Day
The BCC press release on the 27th February was largely factual in content, describing the content and timings of the event on the day. The issue of inclusiveness was not addressed directly, but alluded to in the description of the concert line-up at Custom House Square. In terms of the regulation