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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 March, 2005, 07:01 GMT
Saint's holiday debate goes on
Draig Goch / Welsh flag

With St David's Day at hand, expect the debate to rage once again about whether or not Wales should have a bank holiday to celebrate it.

Organisations no less influential than the Welsh assembly have called for one to be created.

But what would an additional bank holiday mean for the country?

At present, St David's Day is mainly marked by schoolchildren putting on concerts for parents who cannot watch them - because they are in work.

If it was a national holiday, presumably the parents would be free to attend - the only problem now is the children would have the day off school, so there would be no concerts to go and watch...

Bank Holidays are known for three things - traffic jams, DIY and drinking (hopefully in that order, if you happen to be tackling all three).

Revellers at St Patrick's Day parade
...unlike the Irish, famed for their enjoyment of St Patrick's Day

Tacked on as they are to a weekend, they are handy for short breaks and family reunions.

But St David's Day is a little different. The holiday, presumably, would occur not on the first Monday in March, but on the day itself - not quite as convenient for either staff or businesses to work around if it was mid-week.

Looking across the water, though, Ireland has fully embraced its national day, and St Patrick's Day celebrations in the republic have become a draw for tourists as well as locals, whatever the day.

The celebration has grown so much that Dublin now boasts a five-day St Patrick's festival, which encompasses a parade on the day itself, and music, street theatre, fireworks and more in the days before and after.

No-one would question the marketing boost the celebrations have given the country - could the same happen here?

The Wales Tourist Board does not have a policy on lobbying for a bank holiday but spokesman Michael Greenow said they certainly used St David to promote Wales as a destination.

The key lies in creating more festivals which can bring Welsh culture to life
Wales Tourist Board

"It's a very important day in the Welsh calendar and more and more people are finding ways to celebrate our patron saint," he told the BBC news website.

"If Wales is to emulate the success of St Patrick's Day in Ireland then the key lies in creating more festivals which can bring Welsh culture to life."

He pointed to the inauguration of a St David's Day parade in Cardiff last year as a measure of the growth in its popularity.

Business lobby group CBI Wales is - perhaps unsurprisingly - ambivalent about any new bank holiday.

Emma Watkins, head of policy in Wales, told the BBC news website the subject had been canvassed among its members.

Whether [businesses] would actually support another bank holiday, I don't know
Emma Watkins, CBI

"Generally members are indifferent to it, half in favour, half against," she said.

"If there is a bank holiday on St David's Day and the rest of the UK is working, it gives the impression Wales is shut for business and that gives a bad impression.

"If there was a choice [between St David's Day or an additional fixed holiday for all of Britain] employers would prefer it to be uniform.

"Many employers and employees agree to swap bank holidays for other time off. Flexibility is the key."

However she added: "Whether they would actually support another bank holiday, I don't know."

While England, Scotland and Wales currently enjoy among the lowest public holidays per year in the EU with eight - the average is 12 - Northern Ireland has 10.

St Patrick's Day event last year in Belfast
St Patrick's Day revellers out in force in Belfast

Like its southern neighbour, it celebrates St Patrick's Day, and also the Battle of the Boyne on 12 July, a reflection of the historically divided religious communities in the area.

Ian Morrow from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce cannot see that the additional holidays have a negative impact on the country's economy, despite the fact the rest of the UK is in work.

"It's hard to judge [the economic situation] but it's not that detrimental," he said.

"Although people are off work, in Belfast on St Patrick's Day, with the parade through the town, the economic impact is neutral to good, with people who wouldn't normally be in town nipping in to shops."


However he conceded: "While there would be a range of people off on those days, it's by no means a national holiday.

"There would be a substantial amount of people still at work."

Civil servants, banks, and traditional heavy industries all had time off, he said, adding: "Manufacturing and business has changed a lot. The service-type industries and call-centres tend to operate 24/7."

"I'd imagine St David's Day in Wales would be more like St Patrick's Day in the Republic of Ireland, where people do see it as a national holiday."

Bank holidays, whenever they fall, bring costs beyond simple cash considerations. The Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust stressed there would be knock-on effects for health services.

A spokeswoman said they would have to provide extra staff to cover holiday leave and find alternative times for treatments or outpatient clinics, which would affect patients.

"Our patients' needs don't stop because there's a bank holiday. We have to provide the same number of treatments but have less time to do them," she added.

They need not worry yet. The latest communiqué from Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, delivered in the House of Commons just a few weeks ago, is the argument for a day off for Dewi Sant is far from being won.

On Monday, he revealed he was "open-minded" about the idea of a holiday on 1 March, but said that there had to be full consultation on the policy.

"Wales' and England's economies are so intergrated that we really need to work this through in considerable detail," he said.

So, until a convincing "business case" which would also benefit the community is proven, parents just have to continue missing their children's St David's Day concerts.

Wales celebrates its day
01 Mar 04 |  Wales

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