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Last Updated: Monday, 23 April 2007, 02:23 GMT 03:23 UK
St George's holiday 'inevitable'
By James Clarke
BBC News, England

Man posing as St George on a horse
It is thought St George was born in Turkey in the 3rd Century AD
St George's Day will be a public holiday in England within two or three years, according to a man campaigning for the day to be celebrated.

The government has said it has no plans to change the current pattern of bank holidays, but Graham Smith, who launched the St George Unofficial Bank Holiday campaign last year, thinks it may soon have no choice.

The Scottish Parliament voted to make St Andrew's Day a voluntary public holiday last year and Mr Smith believes that if the same happens in Wales for St David's Day, England will also have to follow suit.

He told BBC News: "I think it's inevitable. In Scotland it was highly unlikely anybody would vote against it, and quite rightly.

National dress

"So, logically Wales will then demand the same and there's a lot of passion about St David's Day in Wales.

It will not happen next year, but I would say two or three years would be the time scale
Graham Smith

"St Patrick's Day has been a bank holiday in Northern Ireland for decades, so St George's Day will be the odd one out and the government will not be able to come up with a reason for that staying that way.

"It will not happen next year, but I would say two or three years would be the time scale."

It may not be as simple as Mr Smith hopes. While parties in the Welsh Assembly have supported calls for St David's Day to be a holiday, the assembly does not have the power to create public holidays and the government in London has shown no more sign of backing Welsh claims for St David's Day than it has the English desire to have a day off work for St George on 23 April.

But Mr Smith, who lives in north London, believes the day should be marked and is one of the many people using the new Downing Street e-petitions website to make his point.

Tony Blair drinks from a St George's cross cup in a BBC radio studio
Blair said no to the holiday but is happy to drink from St George's cup
Since it was launched in November, the petitions website has enabled campaigners to call for everything from the withdrawal of troops from Iraq to God Save The Queen being replaced as the national anthem by the Spandau Ballet hit Gold.

The most high-profile petition was against the introduction of pay-as-you-go road taxing and was signed by 1.8 million people.

Several English patriots have seized the opportunity to use the petitions website to press their claims either for St George's Day to be a bank holiday, or for a separate English national anthem.

And seven people have signed a petition calling for the prime minister to introduce a national dress for England "to restore national pride which has diminished over the years".

There is more than one petition calling for St George's Day to be made a national holiday. One, which ran from November to January, was signed by 6,535 people.

The present pattern of bank holidays in the United Kingdom is well-established and accepted, and the Government has no current plans to change the arrangements
Downing Street statement

Downing Street's response to the petition said: "Whilst the government is pleased that so many people are interested, as you can imagine it is not possible to please everyone as to who or what should be celebrated.

"Unlike Northern Ireland, where St Patrick's Day is a bank holiday, bank and public holidays in Great Britain do not, by tradition, commemorate particular individuals, events or institutions, other than those associated with Christmas and Easter.

"Moreover, many individuals and communities in England already celebrate St George's Day in a way they consider more suitable.

"The present pattern of bank holidays in the United Kingdom is well-established and accepted, and the government has no current plans to change the arrangements."

St George fights the dragon in a BBC television programme from 1950
Dragons look out - 23 April has been St George's Day since 1222
But Mr Smith believes the government's hand may be forced despite its strong stance.

His own petition calls for the prime minister to fund a nationwide programme of events to celebrate St George's Day in England and has been signed by more than 800 people.

He said: "Depending on where you live, there will either be huge St George's Day celebrations or none at all, you can get a slightly warped view if you think your area is typical.

"If you live in London you might think that St George's Day goes by unnoticed, but in Birmingham, Manchester and Leicester, for example, there are large events planned.

"Eventually other cities will look at what theses places are doing and think they ought to do something."

'Focal point'

Mr Smith accepts that the onus is on people who want to celebrate the day to organise festivities, or at least encourage their local authorities to use some of their council tax to fund events.

As part of his campaign he is planning to organise an event in Islington, where he lives, on St George's Day next year.

But he also feels the government should help fund events to celebrate the day.

"What would be nice is if in each of the regions there was a focal point where there were two or three days of celebrations. The government needs to be able to make the funds available."




SEE ALSO
Cost row slays St George parade
18 Apr 07 |  Derbyshire
Could St George boost business?
21 Apr 06 |  England
St George's events 'not enough'
23 Apr 05 |  London

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