Appeal from Alex Maskey MLA south Belfast
Throughout the world, major cities come to a standstill on the 17th March each year to celebrate St Patricks Day. The Irish Diaspora, in places as far away as Moscow and Beijing, organise events to mark our national day. From the largest cities to the smallest villages in Ireland we come together to celebrate our nationality, our culture, our music and our language. The contribution that our people have made to the building of other nations is celebrated. After decades of being denied the right to celebrate our nationality and identity in the second largest city in the country, Belfast, major events are now organised both in the city centre and throughout the city. That right was hard fought and hard won.
Unfortunately that positive message was lost on many last year when video images were beamed across the world of drunken young people and others causing major disturbances in the Holyland. Scenes of young men and women, obviously in a drunken state, being dragged away by their friends, drunken stone throwers wearing the colours of their proud counties sent a negative message of how we mark St Patricks Day in Belfast.
We as Irish people have much to be proud of, not least where we have come from and how far along the road of change we have travelled. Not too long ago there was a time when our national colours in whatever form or the wearing of GAA shirts provoked an angry and at times violent reaction in our city centre. We have changed all of that. There is now a confidence, particularly amongst our young people, which for decades had been suppressed. Events like those which took place in the Holyland last year do nothing to inspire that confidence. They do nothing to promote or celebrate our identity and culture.
I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to all residents of the Holyland, be they students or other members of that community to celebrate our National day in a way that celebrates and promotes our identity in a positive light. Be mindful that following last years events there are people living around you who will anticipate this St Patricks Day with fear and apprehension. That is unacceptable.
Many people have gone to great lengths to ensure that events have been organised to provide the opportunity for you to enjoy and celebrate St Patricks Day in a safe and positive way. I would urge as many people as possible to participate in these events and however you may celebrate our national day, to treat your neighbours and friends with respect and courtesy and to ensure that there is no repeat of the scenes we witnessed last year.
Councillor Alex Maskey MLA.