Traders angry at St Patrick’s Day snub

Traders angry at St Patrick’s Day snub

6 February 2019

DOWNPATRICK traders have criticised council chiefs for failing to consult them over plans to hold next month’s St Patrick’s Day festival parade on a Sunday — when the majority of shops will be closed.

While March 17 falls on the Sabbath this year, the annual St Patrick’s pilgrimage walk from Saul Church into the centre of the town and the traditional cross-community ecumenical service at Down Cathedral will both take place the following day.

The flagship Downpatrick parade has been held before on a Sunday, but there has been a tradition that when St Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday, the parade was moved to the following day.

While the Downpatrick parade is set to go ahead on March 17 along with one in Newry, it has emerged that the parade in Armagh, organised by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, has been switched to the day before.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s decision to hold the parade on March 17 means the town will now host two major events on the same day, with the hugely popular Jimmy’s 10K road race taking place in the morning ahead of the festival parade starting at 1pm.

Traders say Downpatrick is always busy in the lead-up to the parade with the majority of them doing relatively well on what is the busiest day of the year, given the thousands of visitors flocking to the town.

Some in the business community argue that traders will “lose out” as the parade is taking place on Sunday as the majority will not have the opportunity to enjoy the same income they would expect if the event was held on a Saturday or Monday.

Several traders the Recorder spoke to said they are not surprised that council officials did not consult them before making a decision.

They said the business community should have been consulted, with their anger compounded by the local authority’s decision on Monday night to increase business rates.

“The council does not care about us,” said one angry businessman. “Why is the festival parade taking place on the Sunday and the religious services taking place the following day?

“It is clear people are not going to come to Downpatrick on both days. It also somewhat ironic that on the day we learn about the Sunday parade, the council increases business rates by two per cent.”

The businessman, who did not wish to be identified, said it was not right that traders were not consulted.

“The majority of those in business in Downpatrick will tell you that is nothing new. Surely it would have been much better to host all the events on the one day? My preference would have been to hold the parade on the Monday but, as usual, traders were kept in the dark and not asked for their views.”

Another trader asked was the fact that various religious services would be held on March 18 factored into the council’s thinking when it was deciding if the parade would be held on the Sunday or Monday.

He added: “Newry, Mourne and Down Council taking a decision without consulting with Downpatrick traders is, I am afraid, par for the course.”

The Dean of Down, the Vey Rev Henry Hull, confirmed that the annual cross-community ecumenical service at Down Cathedral has been switched to March 18, in tandem with the pilgrimage walk from Saul to the Cathedral.

He explained that when St Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday, by tradition, the church moves the cross-community service to the Monday, given the many regular Sunday services that are being held.

Dean Hull added: “I am quite disappointed that St Patrick is being downplayed in comparison to what happened in previous years.

“For a long time there was a big focus on St Patrick’s Day and the whole period around it, but it does seem to be somewhat downplayed this year with less events being organised. It is a pity there are not more things happening on the Monday which is a bank holiday.”

A council spokesman said the local authority’s St Patrick’s Day Working Group of elected representatives was informed and consulted on all the plans and decisions in relation to the events that are due to take place on and around St Patrick’s Day each year.

“Following consultation with the Working Group there was consensus and agreement that the St Patrick’s Day parades in Downpatrick and Newry should be held on Sunday, March 17. With consideration to the religious services that are due to take place on that day, the parades will commence at 1pm in both locations.”