Belfast Telegraph

St Patrick would wince at how his name has been hijacked for political purposes

By Alf McCreary

Once again, Saint Patrick has been hijacked for political expediency. Derry City and Strabane District Council decided to ban all flags and emblems from its St Patrick's Day parade because it wanted the celebrations to be "cross-community and family-focused".

Sadly, some local republicans threatened a breakaway parade so they could fly the Irish tricolour.

Shortly afterwards, the council, with a deplorable lack of conviction, capitulated and decided the Irish flag would not be banned.

The tricolour, or any similar emblem, has nothing to do with the history of Patrick. He was a Roman citizen and a migrant who came to Ireland in the 5th century to bring Christianity to the native Irish.

Having written two books about Patrick, I have come to love this rustic and deeply religious man.

He set a wonderful example of bringing Christianity to people high and low, and he really was a saint.

He bequeathed a noble tradition to this island, but we have served him badly with our endless violence and sectarianism .

The real St Patrick has nothing to do with the Strabane parade or with almost all March 17 demonstrations, which are merely examples of flag-waving Paddywhackery.

If Patrick was alive today, he would wince at the way in which his name is being taken in vain and he would be deeply hurt by our lack of respect for each other's culture.

'Respect' is something Sinn Fein has been parroting as a political slogan, rather than as a sincere attempt to improve community relations.

In the past few weeks, the party has found its level.

First, there was the disgraceful episode with Barry McElduff and the loaf of bread, which deeply hurt the survivors of the Kingsmill massacre and the families of those who were mown down like dogs on a winter's night in 1976.

Mr McElduff's apology for the episode, and that of Mairtin O Muilleoir, who should have known better than to re-tweet the distressing video, were unconvincing.

Then Gerry Kelly did something the rest of us would never dare attempt when he removed a clamp from his car.

He then admitted his regret and blithely announced that he had paid the fine, as if that were the end of the matter. To complete the catalogue of distasteful Sinn Fein behaviour, Alex Maskey said in a tweet that Northern Ireland was a "putrid little statelet", which it certainly is not.

All of this is a far cry from the witness of St Patrick, whom republicans would claim as their patron saint.

The awkward reality is that Patrick is also the patron saint of Protestants, so what role would they have in the kind of fantasy "new Ireland" that Sinn Fein is busy promoting while re-writing history to claim they were the good guys and the Provisional IRA were not terrorists?

Of course there were wrongs in the unionist-dominated Northern Ireland, but in the past decades those wrongs have been largely righted - and in most cases with the support of Protestants and unionists.

The DUP has also shown disrespect to republicans and nationalists, but Sinn Fein has never wanted to admit that many Protestants do not support the DUP or the behaviour of the party.

The leading Sinn Fein members are smart, but do they really think (or care) that their current behaviour will impress fair-minded Protestants who know only too well how shallow their sad rhetoric really is?

Last Sunday there was an impressive example of cross-community respect during the installation of the new Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde, in St Anne's Cathedral.

That's the kind of Northern Ireland most people want - one that's a credit to the memory of St Patrick.

What we don't need is constant lecturing from Sinn Fein, which daily digs a deeper pit in which its credibility among the people it needs to befriend is sinking further.

Whether or not Stormont is restored, there will be no peace until the poison on both sides is drained from the body politic. That's what St Patrick would really want.

Belfast Telegraph

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