The News at One
BBC Radio Foyle
Seán O’Halloran speaks to Derry City and Strabane District Council members Paul Gallagher (Independent) and Derek Hussey (UUP) about the ban on the Irish Tricolour in Strabane’s official 2018 Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.
Where’s the audio? It is not available for download. To listen as you read please click here. (begins time stamp ~13:28)
Seán: The Irish Tricolour has been banned from this year’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Strabane. Derry and Strabane Council has confirmed that flags and emblems will not be included in the official parade. A spokesperson said it was designed to make the event a cross-community cultural celebration but it is believed at least one band has already pulled out as a result. Our reporter, Una Kelly, has been getting reaction in Strabane.
Audio: Una Kelly reporting from Strabane.
Seán: Well, some strong opinion from Strabane there. Well, listening to that is Paul Gallagher, an Independent Councillor from Strabane, and Derek Hussey, a UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) councillor. If we could start with you, Paul Gallagher: Is this something you support?
Seán, could I first could I say, to set it in context: There’s been a community festival in Strabane around Saint Paddy’s Day for the last twelve years and flags were very much welcome. This year the Council has taken ownership of it and is providing funding for it. And they have used their interpretation, Council workers have used their interpretation for legislation, and have said they would prefer no Tricolours. However when we look, we as councillors, I think we must give direction and interpretation to our staff. We must give it through, as elected representatives, through the chamber. When we look at this legislation this is the same legislation that’s used by all councils throughout The North and we see in, for example, like Causeway Coast and Glens that Council can fly a Union Jack in the mainly Nationalist town of Ballycastle – that’s using the same interpretation. Therefore we, as councillors, must give the direction to our staff around interpretation of this legislation.
Seán: When you mention interpretation there, when the council says flags and emblems will not be included in the official parade do you intend to voice your opposition to that?
Paul: That was the current, that’s the current status quo that the Council staff are interpreting. I think as a result…
Seán: …Do you disagree with that?
Paul: What I’m saying to you is: In order to bring a balanced approach, in order to bring a balanced approach and to transition from being a community festival to a Council festival – the time to bring it forward from out of the chamber is too late for this year but, as a councillor, I had to bring it into the chamber that we change the interpretation that Council’s using.
Seán: So you’re not happy with the interpretation for this year’s parade. I mean Derek Hussey, what’s your reaction to this? Is this something that you would welcome?
Well firstly, I think we all have to realise that the symbolism and heritage of Patrick belongs to all and commemoration of his feast day has the potential to bring citizens together and associated events of commemoration. Non-partisan participation in these events is something to be desired and it’s something that should be encouraged. But it must be realised that the development of a more representative community involvement is a long-term project. Now the Council instruction that the ‘official’ events of the day would be flag-free is welcomed. But you know, I sometimes have to wonder at the absence of the Flag of Patrick during the day’s events throughout the world and fail to understand why there are those that find it necessary to have the flag of the Republic of Ireland so prominently on display.
Seán: And then obviously if you take the statement at its word, Mr. Hussey, the ban of shamrocks – of flags and emblems – I mean that could technically mean that maybe shamrocks can’t be used in an ‘official’ parade.
Derek: That’s where it is. And indeed you know, the diagonal red cross of Saint Patrick, similarly, which I have failed to observe in many, many Saint Patrick’s Day commemorations throughout the world and it seems to have been overcome with the flag of a small nation.
Seán: And in the interest of balance: Would you support on the ban of the Union flag on The Twelfth, for example?
Derek: Absolutely not! Why would I?
Seán: Well just going along, the letter from Council here in terms of how they’re governing their own Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. Going back to you, Paul Gallagher, is this a Council official decision then?
Paul: Well, it’s an interpretation by the staff and can I say to you that Council officially…
Seán: …Official staff at Council have taken this interpretation?
Paul: Yes, yes. And as I say, in fairness to them, that we, as councillors, must give direction and leadership. But can I say to you: The precedent has already been set when Council officially, ‘officially’ now, supported 1916 Easter Rising events as well as World War I events in 2016. So the precedent of Council officially funding projects and events where the Tricolour was present and the Union Jack was present has already been made. Therefore I think it’s for us, as councillors, to be fair to our staff as to give clear direction and at the minute that clear direction is not there.
Seán: And maybe that’s why we know that at least one band has already pulled out?
Paul: Well, one band has pulled out and what I would say to the community in Strabane who’s previously engaged is: Not to pull out of the events that are going to get organised on the day. The bands can organise their own events that can run alongside the Council’s ‘official’ events. So you know, like the language around ‘banned’, language around ‘banned’ – it’s what we, as councillors, would say has been introduced in Strabane. So it’s all around interpretation and you hear Councillor Hussey there doesn’t like interpretation when it comes to the Union Jack.
Seán: Okay. Paul Gallagher and Derek Hussey, thanks for joining us.
Derek: Seán, Seán, you’ve cut me very short there. Can I just add something to that?
Seán: Yes, very briefly if you could.
Derek: Thank you. You know, one thing that’s been overlooked in this is that it’s regrettable that Council have now determined to also incorporate the commemorative events in Strabane into a so-called ‘Irish Language Week’ which lasts seventeen days. And you know, the former Saint Patrick’s Day in Strabane is now being re-branded within the Strabane Spring Festival and it seemingly has morphed effectively into an Irish language festival in Strabane. In such a context can you envisage a tsunami from the PUL (Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist) community back when (inaudible) in Strabane rather the perception of Strabane…
Seán: …Okay, Mr. Hussey, we will, we really will have to leave it there. Apologies, that might be an issue for another day. (ends time stamp ~ 21:40)