In a sign of the transformed political reality in the North, both nationalist and unionist politicians have called on the British government to make Saint Patrick's Day a public holiday in Northern Ireland.

March 17 is the day when Ireland's patron saint is celebrated globally, but while it is a full public holiday in the Irish Republic, in the North it is still only a bank holiday.

But now the leader of the nationalist SDLP party Margaret Ritchie has written to the British Secretary of State Owen Paterson to request a change that has also been backed by the Democratic Unionist member of parliament Ian Paisley Junior.

Ritchie is the member of parliament for the South Down constituency, in the same county where Saint Patrick is reputed to be buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland's Down Cathedral in the town of Downpatrick.

"His legacy unites us all and he is a unifying figure in Northern Ireland" Ritchie told the press. "He is a symbol of reconciliation and a symbol of unity between communities."

Ritchie's call for a public holiday was backed by Paisley, whose father had previously made a similar call.