Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Has Belfast Lord Mayor's Parade hit a dead end?

It used to be one of the highlights of the city calendar.

But, the Lord Mayor's Parade in Belfast is not what it used to be, and its future could now be in doubt.

For the first time in more than 50 years there may not be a Lord Mayor's Parade this summer because the £80,000 funding is being diverted to pay for a separate carnival that will form part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

And, the Belfast Telegraph can also reveal that councillors are currently considering axing the annual event permanently.

"There was a feeling that the Lord Mayor's Parade had the potential to be really good but that the event has perhaps run out of steam," said the DUP's Christopher Stalford, chairman of the development committee at City Hall.

"We are going to look at ways of making it better. But nothing is off the table and we might decide to discontinue the Lord Mayor's Parade."

Last year saw a record low turnout of spectators for the show which cost Belfast ratepayers between £50,000 and £80,000.

Mr Stalford added: "It used to be a huge event but it is not so any more. If you ask people from Belfast, the Lord Mayor's Parade used to be something they looked forward to every year.

"It was uniquely Belfast. But, recently the Belfast-centric nature of the event has been somewhat lost.

"Unanimously, there was a feeling that something should be done, and we have two options - either discontinue it or change it."

Last year's Belfast City Carnival - the new title for the event since 2008 - which snaked its way from Writers' Square, opposite St Anne's Cathedral, along Royal Avenue to Donegall Place was themed 'One World, One Vision, One Future' and included huge floats and Irish dancers.

Sinn Fein's Conor Maskey, who admitted he has never attended the parade, said: "There are a number of big events this year and you cannot allocate money to all of them. It was decided that the Lord Mayor's Parade might be one which the council could forgo.

"But it does create a bigger conversation on the merits of the Lord Mayor's Carnival. There is a view that it is very much outdated and if you are spending that amount of money on something it could be an event that is better. St Patrick's Day for example, has been a big success."

Mr Maskey said he believed the pomp and ceremony of such an event was unnecessary.

It is estimated that around 3,000 people will take part in the Cultural Olympiad on June 30.

It will combine carnival, circus, music and spectacle with local and international artists, underpinned by a community engagement programme.

The possibility of axing the annual Lord Mayor's Parade has angered some former First Citizens.

Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers, who was mayor twice in 2001-02 and 2007-08, said the annual parade was among the highlights of his terms.

"It was an exceptionally enjoyable experience and it was nice to look back on my year in office."

"I made my way through the town on a horse-drawn carriage with the Lady Mayoress. There was a big banquet at City Hall hosted by the Junior Chamber of Commerce and it was just a fantastic day. "

In 2006, on the 50th anniversary of the show, officials re-branded it as the Lord Mayor's Carnival. In 2008 it was re-branded again to become the Belfast City Carnival.

Former Mayor Pat McCarthy said: "It was a really memorable day for me," he said. "I think the event has now lost its appeal and it needs to be re-vamped to bring it back to what it was years ago."

The decision on whether or not to stage a Lord Mayor's Carnival this year will have to be ratified at a full meeting of the council next month.

Background

The Lord Mayor's Parade was started in 1956 by former First Citizen, RJR Harcourt. It was a huge spectacle with dozens of flower-covered floats and thousands lining the streets. Footage of the first-ever parade was retrieved from a builder's skip during the multi-million pound refurbishment of Belfast City Hall. Until 2007 the annual event was held in May at the end of a Mayor's term. It was re-branded the Belfast City Carnival in 2008 and has been held in June ever since

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