ULSTER Unionist MLA Alastair Patterson has suggested that St. Patrick’s Day has been “taken over” by Catholics and “republicanised” by Sinn Fein.

The Fermanagh-south Tyrone representative, who is hoping to retain his seat in the Assembly election in May, believes some St. Patrick’s Day events “cause problems.”

In an interview with The Impartial Reporter conducted on the eve of the Ulster Unionist Party’s Spring Conference in Armagh, his first as an MLA for this area, Mr. Patterson has: * Called for the union flag to be flown on public buildings “all of the time.”

* Described marriage as “a union between a man and a woman” but backed civil partnership.

* Claimed some nationalists who oppose Orange marches “go out of their way to get offended.”

Mr. Patterson’s comments on St. Patrick’s Day follow similar utterances made by First Minister Arlene Foster who claimed in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph last week that unionist and loyalist communities feel “alienated” from the occasion because it has been “Gaelicised.”

“St Patrick’s Day events in some cases cause problems,” Mr. Patterson told this newspaper.

“And yes, in some ways, they have been maybe taken over by people which is wrong.”

Asked who he believes has ‘taken over’ St. Patrick’s Day, the Ulster Unionist MLA said: “They have been taken over by the Roman Catholic, nationalist community and in fact sometimes by Sinn Fein and have been republicanised at times.”

Last Thursday St. Patrick’s Day celebrations took place in Enniskillen. The event, which has been running for several years, has been praised for its cross community approach. When this was put to Mr. Patterson, he replied: “I didn’t say all of them [have been republicanised], I said some of them have been republicanised. I know events take place in Enniskillen which is cross community, I have taken part in it myself. A lot of good work has been done.”

Mr. Patterson says the union flag “is very close to me as a person” and believes it should be flown on public buildings throughout Fermanagh-south Tyrone “all of the time.”

“Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and I have to say within public buildings that is the flag of our country and that flag should be flown in proper circumstances. What annoys me is seeing rags flying on a pole, that is disrespecting the flag.

Whenever you go to other countries, such as the Republic of Ireland, the flag is flown on their public buildings. You go to United States of America, you go to London, the flag is flown there. I think that flag should be flown from public buildings, I would say all of the time,” he said.

He does not, however, believe the Irish flag should fly alongside the union flag in Fermanagh-south Tyrone.

“A foreign flag coming into this country... it’s not the flag of this country so I would be feeling that the Irish tricolour should not be flown in part of the United Kingdom,” he said.

In relation to same sex marriage, Mr. Patterson said: “I firmly believe in the church’s view of that, that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Civil partnership, I have no issue with that. In respect of marriage, I very much go with the traditional view on that.”

Asked if he accepts why some people, including nationalists, get offended by Orange Order parades, Mr. Patterson, an Orangeman, replied: “There will always people who will get offended no matter what it is, and I think sometimes there are people who go out of their way to get offended.”

“Orange traditional marches, 90 plus per cent of them cause no offence to anybody. They are a joyful occasion, something that people enjoy. I feel that we don’t cause any offence in what we do in expressing our culture and our tradition.”

Asked if he respects Sinn Fein, Mr. Patterson said: “Sinn Fein have been elected by their people, they have a mandate. You have to respect people who have a mandate.”

“I do have issues with some of their politics, I do have issues with some of their backgrounds, I do have problems with that,” he said.

Asked who he respects in Sinn Fein, Mr. Patterson said: “At this minute in time I can’t really answer that question because I have been trying to get answers to certain issues.”

Mr. Patterson has hit out at the Democratic Unionist Party’s time in Government, saying: “You have to question what exactly have they done for the people on the ground.”

“The DUP have been in government since 2007 and during that time the situation with services in that time have gradually got worse. We have seen our waiting times extended, we have seen issues in education, issues with roads and infrastructure,” he said.

But asked if he would be prepared to work closely with his rival unionist party, Mr. Patterson said: “I would like to see that.”

“For me, people working together is what brings the best results for people. For me, it doesn’t matter if you are DUP, Ulster Unionist, TUV, SDLP, Sinn Fein, Alliance, Green Party. The core issues do not come down to what your religion is, or what your politics are. People don’t care about Orange and Green, they just want the roads, hospital waiting lists and education sorted out,” he said.

Meanwhile speaking at his party’s Spring Conference on Saturday, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt told colleagues, including Mr. Patterson, that Tom Elliott’s win at the Westminster election last year was “for all unionism.”

“Running Tom in Fermanagh was our plan. We may not be the biggest unionist party at the moment, but we are the party with the best ideas and the most inclusive ideas, like offering all unionism the opportunity to coalesce around Tom, take on Sinn Féin, and deliver a rare, rare electoral defeat for republicanism.

“I will take to the grave the scenes at the Fermanagh count in Omagh, as republicans grappled with the shock of loss,” he said.

And he criticised First Minister Arlene Foster who last week spoke of her fear of losing the first minister role to Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.

“So, what big idea did the new DUP Leader come up with last weekend? Something equally bold, positive and inclusive? No, it was a verbal shot, and directed not at Sinn Fein, or Dublin, or any enemy of the Union. It was aimed squarely at us.

"And it was project fear, project scaremonger again. Vote for me, or you get Martin McGuinness as first minister. Like he isn’t already. Aren’t the DUP the party of Smash Sinn Fein? Now, they are in bed together, by choice,” said Mr. Nesbitt.