St Patrick's Day parade re-routed over union flag row in Omagh

St Patrick's Day parade in Omagh The parade was re-routed after an emergency council meeting on Monday morning

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A St Patrick's Day parade has been re-routed in County Tyrone due to a row over the union flag.

The annual parade in Omagh had been due to take a different route from normal on Monday, in an attempt to make the event more inclusive for unionists.

However, just hours before the march was due begin, it was re-routed away from the mainly unionist Campsie Road.

Sinn Fein blamed the "proliferation of union flags" along the route. The DUP said it was disappointed by the move.

Start Quote

We made the case that the huge number of flags makes the environment uncomfortable for many nationalists and completely undermines the council's policy of neutrality”

End Quote Sean Begley Sinn Fein
'Uncomfortable'

Councillors have been holding talks about the route for a number of weeks but on Monday morning, hours before the procession was due to begin, they held a 90-minute emergency meeting where they failed to reach agreement over the flags issue.

The flags are on display along the Campsie Road and its roundabout. They were erected over the past number of weeks, coinciding with the ongoing union flag dispute at Belfast City Hall.

Sinn Fein councillor Sean Begley - who chaired Omagh District Council's organising committee for the St Patrick's Day celebrations - criticised his unionist colleagues for a "lack of leadership".

He said: "We made the case that the huge number of flags makes the environment uncomfortable for many nationalists and completely undermines the council's policy of neutrality.

'Grow up'

'However, despite this, unionist representatives refused to try and deal with the issue and in light of this we voted to change the route of today's parade to one that is more inclusive."

But the DUP's Errol Thompson said those calling for the removal of the union flag along the parade route needed to "grow up".

Mr Thompson said the purpose of introducing a new parade route was to encourage unionists communities to participate in the St Patrick's celebrations.

He said that any attempt to remove the union flag "from a constitutional part of the United Kingdom" in order to allow the parade to pass would not been viewed as inclusive from a unionist point of view.

'Intolerance'

Mr Thompson, who is chairman of Omagh District Council, said it would only have taken 10 minutes for the parade to pass the flags.

He accused Sinn Fein of "intolerance" of those who support the union.

However, Mr Begley said Sinn Fein "has always adopted the principle of inclusivity and respect in our approach approach to the St Patrick's events".

He added that Omagh's annual celebrations had been "flag free" for a number of years, in an attempt to adhere to the council's policy of neutrality.

Mr Begley said nationalist councillors had already made a gesture to unionists by agreeing to move the date of the parade to Monday, because St Patrick's Day had fallen on a Sunday.

The parade had been due to begin at Crevenagh Road, through the Campsie area and into the town centre.

'Share history'

Instead, it began at the council offices on Mountjoy Road, through Drumragh Avenue and into Omagh.

On its website, the council promoted the St Patrick's Day festival by saying that "diverse communities" from throughout County Tyrone would participate in a wide variety of cultural events.

"New and creative ways to investigate and share history, culture and tradition have combined within a family friendly and inclusive focus to evolve this traditional feast day into a civic celebration belonging to all the people of Omagh and further a field," it added.

Last year, the event attracted about 15,000 people.

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