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Unionists in Down have vowed to stay away from the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, due to a row over flags.

The row erupted over the use of the Irish language on a new flag which is to be presented by Down District Council during their annual March 17 celebration.

The flag contains the symbol of a bishop’s mitre and crozier and has the words ‘Downpatrick’ on one side and the Gaelic translation, ‘Dun Padraig’ on the reverse.

Traditionally, Down council hands out flags with the red and white St Patrick’s Cross to attendees.

In a twist of irony, the flag was designed to defuse tensions that arose from last year’s parade, when a Sinn Fein councilman insisted on carrying a 10ft Irish tri-color during the carnival.

Jim Wells, DUP MLA for South Down told the Belfast Telegraph he will not attend the parade in protest over the use of Gaelic.

“I most certainly will not be attending the parade,” he said.

“It is my personal protest against the adoption of Irish language on the flag. I believe this is a highly retrograde step.

“Unfortunately, by adopting this stance they are alienating moderate unionists who would have very much liked to be associated with the event.”

The event has been running for 26-years and usually attracts more than 30,000 people.

“I have made it clear that I would not be going,” he said. “I was there three years ago and I was happy to lead it, but with the debate over the flag and the use of Irish on it, I believe nationalists are trying to drive a wedge between the two communities.

“This is a step backwards for community relations in Downpatrick and it is extremely disappointing that it has come to this.”

DUP man William Walker told the Telegraph he had “no desire to attend Saturday’s festival”.

Adding: “And, the way that some councilors in Down District Council are getting on, they are not doing anything to entice me to go”.

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Unionists (the Cormeen Rising Sons of William) marching in Co. Armagh.Google Images