Ambitious plans to transform St Patrick's Day celebrations into a three-day ‘sober’ celebration have sparked a row amongst councillors in Belfast.
Belfast City Council is set to inject a further £70,000 of ratepayers’ money to transform the one-day celebration into a three-day festival that incorporates a brand message of the initiative ‘Sober St Patrick’s Day’.
Ahead of the new programme — that would involve food fairs, film screenings and tours — council representatives met William Spencer Reilly, the man who spearheaded the Sober St Patrick's Day Celebration in New York.
The debut event held in March this year was a huge success.
During a meeting with city council representatives in October, Mr Reilly was told while Belfast already had a sober St Patrick’s Day, the brand message could be integrated during the celebrations — if agreed by the full council next month.
Pressure groups and organisations involved in addiction and recovery initiatives would also be invited to take part in the parade.
Separate to the council organised events, St Patrick’s Day has been marred in the Holylands area of south Belfast in the past with rioting and booze-fuelled street parties.
As well as the annual parade and concert, the expanded 2013 programme would include a range of new events targeting a family audience where alcohol will be banned. This includes:
- A St Patrick’s market and food fair at St George’s Market.
- St Patrick’s themed tours of the city and St Patrick’s historical tours of the city’s cemeteries.
- St Patrick’s Day ceili and dance at the Ulster Hall.
- Screening films with a Belfast, Ulster or Irish theme at the big screen in the City Hall grounds.
The proposals, backed by the development committee, will now be considered by the full council in December.
But while there is support to strengthen the message of a booze-free St Patrick’s Day, the cost of additional events has sparked opposition from unionist parties.
The cost of the annual parade and concert is £140,000.
If the new plans get the green light it would jump to £210,000 in 2013 and an estimated annual £250,000 after that.
The UUP’s Bob Stoker, however, said while he welcomed any move that would reduce the consumption of alcohol, he was “totally opposed” to the plans due to the cost.
But Sinn Fein’s Jim McVeigh, a member of the development committee, backed the move.
“We don’t have alcohol at our St Patrick’s Day events but this is about us taking it up a level and giving the no alcohol message a stronger theme,” he said.