Belfast Telegraph

Holiday plea over St Patrick's Day

Leading nationalist and unionist politicians have called on the Government to make St Patrick's Day a public holiday in Northern Ireland.

March 17 is known around the world as the day to celebrate Ireland's patron saint, but while it is a full public holiday in the Irish Republic, it is only a bank holiday north of the border.

Leader of the nationalist SDLP Margaret Ritchie has written to Secretary of State Owen Paterson on the issue - and her call for a change has been backed by Democratic Unionist MP Ian Paisley Junior.

Ms Ritchie is MP for South Down, where St Patrick is reputed to be buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland's Down Cathedral in the town of Downpatrick.

"His legacy unites us all and he is a unifying figure in Northern Ireland" she said. "He is a symbol of reconciliation and a symbol of unity between communities."

She said Mr Paterson should back her calls for action on marking the day with a public holiday. The SDLP leader said the move was long overdue.

A conference will be held in the St Patrick's Centre tourist facility in March. The venue is next to where the saint is said to be buried and it is hoped the event will act as a launch-pad for raising the profile of the ecclesiastical history surrounding Patrick's story.

The young Patrick was said to have been kidnapped at the age of 16 in Britain and brought to Ireland as a slave, before he escaped, only to return to Ireland as a missionary.

Ms Ritchie said: "It is a sleeping giant for tourism."

Her call for a public holiday was backed by Mr Paisley, whose father had previously made a similar call.

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