Belfast enjoyed its first ever official St. Patrick’s Day parade with good cheer at the weekend despite disagreement over the waving of the Irish flag.
Unionists threatened to oppose funding from next year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Belfast over the presence in the crowd of small Irish tricolours.
This year saw Belfast City Council fund the parade for the first time. The motion to support the carnival was passed by 25 votes to 24 with the support of the small moderate unionist Alliance party, which holds the balance of power on the council.
But Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said there was “no way” his party would support next year’s event.
And DUP councillor Robin Newton said his party would continue to withhold its support unless “very strong reassurances” are given that next year’s celebrations would restrict displays of Irishness.
Dozens of floats, flags and face-painters entertained thousands of shamrock clad revellers packed the city centre to enjoy this year’s festivities.
Unionists claimed the Belfast festivities on Friday were “intimidatory” because of the waving of Irish flags and the presence of other green items such as hats and shamrocks.
Steven Corr, from the St Patrick’s Day Carnival Committee, which handed the running of the event over to Belfast City Council this year, said there was room for improvement.
“We thought it went grand and there was a good turn out - a lot of people showed up,” he said.
“But there are issues with the organisation. There was little contact with a lot of the community groups before the parade and this caused minor problems. This is something that we could build on next year.
“Much to their shame, this was the first time the council organised the event and we will give them a bye-ball.
“They didn’t advertise it in the local press and people were contacting us for information on Friday morning. We had to dispel some rumours going about, such as tricolours being banned from the event.
However, unionist politicians insisted the tricolour had indeed been banned. Both the DUP and UUP claimed Protestant constituents left the celebrations because they felt intimidated.
“There is absolutely no way this can be funded next year. We hoped we would be proved wrong but we were not,” said Mr Rodgers.