Northern Ireland

Flag row hangs over Downpatrick St Patrick's parade

A row over which flag should fly at the St Patrick's Day celebrations in Downpatrick has cast a shadow over the planned festivities.

In previous years the flag of St Patrick, a red cross on a white background, had been used alongside the council flag.

This year, Sinn Fein councillor Eamon McConvey carried an Irish tricolour flag at the parade instead.

Several schools and organisations pulled out as a result.

Numbers were down to 20,000 but it is not clear if this was all because of the dispute.

Mr McConvey carried the tricolour to show his opposition to the Saint Patrick flag which is given to crowds by the council every year.

Some councillors believe it is divisive and has links to the Protestant ascendancy - others feel it was around long before nationalist and unionist divisions existed.

Some small pockets of people either cheered or booed as it passed.

Councillors met on Wednesday evening to try and resolve the issue. At one stage, it had been thought that the Saint Patrick's flag was not going to be handed out at all.

Discussions are likely to take place throughout the coming year to ensure the same row is not repeated.

It is possible the issue will be put to the public to see what flag they want next year.

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