Belfast Telegraph

Ruth Patterson says St Patrick's Belfast parade still too green - 'it should be for all of us'

By Staff Reporter

Outspoken unionist councillor Ruth Patterson has said she agrees with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness that St Patrick belongs to everyone.

The expelled DUP politician was speaking after she was criticised yesterday following a radio interview in which she claimed St Patrick was a "former Protestant".

Last night Ms Patterson admitted she could "have been better versed" before her BBCNI Talkback interview, but pointed out St Patrick was British.

And she repeated her calls for loyalists planning a Union flag protest in Belfast on St Patrick's Day to "rethink" their plans.

Ms Patterson has been a supporter of the protests since the council voted to stop flying the flag at Belfast City Hall 365 days a year.

But she said there was no "strategic or political purpose" in a loyalist protest planned for March 17, when the centre of Belfast was full of revellers. A similar event last year saw minor trouble flare and a young girl was hurt by a missile.

When challenged on her change of mind on the radio, Ms Patterson said the Irish tricolour had "nothing to do with St Patrick".

"I don't want the unionist people brought into a situation whereby they are seen to be the bad guys," she added.

"St Patrick's Day brings along with it naked sectarianism. We see hordes of marauding youths running around Belfast city centre draped in tricolours.

"At the end of the day, the tricolour has nothing to do with St Patrick. St Patrick himself was a former Protestant."

When challenged that the patron Saint of Ireland lived 1,000 years before the Reformation, she said: "Yes he may have, but he was a Christian man in his beliefs. I see him as being a former Protestant."

The comments attracted criticism online, and Deputy First Minister McGuinness wrote on Twitter: "I thought he was a shepherd, for ALL of us!"

But Ms Patterson told the Belfast Telegraph last night: "I can't disagree with that."

She described St Patrick as a "Celtic Christian" who was British and said she wished that the celebrations in Belfast were "more inclusive".

While there are cross-community parades and ecumenical church events here, the Belfast parade has been criticised by unionists for being unwelcoming.

"I wish people could go into the city centre on St Patrick's Day and celebrate in the same way St George is celebrated in England," Ms Patterson said, telling how she also supports St Patrick's Day being made a full public holiday, rather than just a bank holiday.

"Anyone with a stature of a saint has generally earned it by good deeds," she added.

She claimed many people avoided the Belfast celebrations due to anti-social behaviour, and those who are not part of the parade or "wrapped in a flag" steer clear.

The councillor said she wished she had been taught more about her local history at school, then "perhaps I would have been better versed". She said Protestants were not taught enough about their own culture and history at school.

She added: "I just hope everyone enjoys a peaceful St Patrick's Day free from hatred and sectarianism."

The councillor is not the first unionist to claim St Patrick, and the Orange Order has held parades on March 17. Ian Paisley said in 1995: "The Roman Catholics in Ireland believe he was a Roman Catholic. I know he was a Protestant, so I think that we should have St Patrick's Day as a national holiday."

In November Ms Patterson was expelled from the DUP over an interview in which she lambasted the leadership for parachuting Emma Pengelly into the Assembly seat vacated by Jimmy Spratt.

She will now stand against her as an Independent in the South Belfast constituency.

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