Belfast Telegraph

Parties unite to call for St Patrick's Day holiday

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.

"Patrick is one thing that we can all, Catholic and Protestant, unite around in Northern Ireland," she said.

"His legacy unites us all and he is a unifying figure in Northern Ireland.

"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.

Conflicting accounts of his history have mingled with myth over the centuries.

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.

But Mr Paisley Jnr wanted to put his own constituency on Patrick's historical map.

"I think it is actually my party's policy to have a public holiday," he said.

"St Patrick was a prototype Protestant, so why would anyone have any problem."

And in a sign of the competition between the regions that lay claim to the saint's legacy, he added: "And he lived on Slemish mountain near Ballymena in my constituency, so even better... I know there is some myth he had something to do with Downpatrick."

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