ANDREW PELLING reports on the latest cut-back in Croydon
St Patrick’s Day has been cancelled by Croydon Council.
With just 16 days’ notice, the Mayor of Croydon’s Personal Assistant sent out the email today to councillors and council officials.
It’s not clear when this decision was made and whether this change is the choice of Mayor Graham Bass himself, or the Mike Fisher-led Conservative administration.
Croydon Conservatives have felt increasingly uncomfortable with the St Patrick’s Day celebration in the Mayor’s Parlour.
The celebration was introduced by Labour to recognise the role of Irish people in the history of the borough, as part of moves to make the Mayoralty more accessible to the public generally. The annual event particularly remembered the role of the Irish in Croydon’s rebuilding in the 1960s.
The story of one Irish road builder, Dan Dempsey, was recorded in the Croydon Museum (now closed), telling how he came from County Cork and spent much of the decade building Croydon’s roads.
“We worked on the flyover for about 12 to 18 months,” Dempsey said. “Now they have machines but then it was all manual work. I used to cut the kerbs by hand with a pitching tool. You could take the skin off your hand if you weren’t careful. It was good money but it was bloody hard work.”
At previous St Patrick’s Day celebrations at the Town Hall, there were senior officials from the Irish embassy present and Irish performing arts were strongly featured.
The annual ceremony also noted how, fuelled by the Celtic Tiger economy, Irish businesses had invested in the Old Town, Altitude 25, the Whitgift Centre, Airport House and Addington Palace. Now all those investments have gone through administration as Ireland’s economy has faltered. Perhaps that’s been another reason for Croydon’s last-minute cancellation?
The peremptory cancellation will likely be taken as an insult by Croydon 6,000-plus Irish British residents and others with Irish ancestry.
The Conservative council found itself getting a media pasting each time it marked the day by raising the St Patrick’s flag outside Taberner House. That flag was introduced as an alternative to the Irish Tricolor used previously. The Tricolor endeavours to be a symbol of reconciliation of orange and green, but some local Conservative party members dislike the flag’s associations with Irish republicanism.
Although Councillor Steve O’Connell has Irish links, Conservatives felt that the event provided little more than an opportunity for Labour Irish councillors to indulge in drinking Irish Coffees in the Mayor’s Parlour, paid for by Irish investors in Croydon who contributed to the occasion.
Such intolerance seems unusual considering the mature attitude that the Conservative party nationally took to Councillor Maria Gatland. Gatland was named at a council meeting by Dr Peter Latham, a Croydon resident and member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, as the former IRA gun-runner Maria Maguire. Local Conservatives suspended the councillor. Gatland is now re-instated, but she has not been given her front line job back.
Following the leadership of Boris Johnson, who attacked a £150-a-head black-tie dinner for the London Irish community on St Patrick Day as “a dinner at the Dorchester for Sinn Fein!”, it seems that local Conservatives will have been emboldened to cancel the Croydon event.
Labour councillor Gerry Ryan, who is chair of the London Councils Irish Councillors’ Network, makes the link with Mayor Johnson. “This is all to do with Boris Johnson’s comment,” Ryan said. “It’s a slap in the face for the Irish community.”
The Croydon Mayor’s PA memo was sent to opposition councillors with no consultation regarding the managing of the community relations issues surrounding the snub.
The e-mail stated: “Following a fundamental review of the Civic programme it has been decided that the Civic event to mark St Patrick’s Day will no longer take place. In reaching this decision it was the considered view that it would be more inclusive for the local community, who do much to celebrate St Patrick’s day, to have the opportunity to invite the Mayor to support and attend a local event.”
It is not clear what else has been cancelled in this “fundamental review”. Christmas may be? Eid perhaps? Or even St George’s Day?
As regards the St Patrick’s flag flying, the PA says, “With regard to the approaching St Patrick’s day, the flag of St Patrick will be flown from the Town Hall. There will be no official ceremony to mark this event. This will be very much in line with Council policy when flying a flag on other national saint days.”
Perhaps Mayor Graham Bass could attend the St Patrick’s Day event to be held at Ruskin House, the home of Croydon’s Labour movement?
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