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Irish holiday 'a time to reflect'

AN estimated 500,000 Irish people, immigrants and tourists lined up along a parade route in Dublin yesterday to celebrate St Patrick's Day - a national holiday dimmed this year by an economic recession and rising violence.

Ireland faces its sternest economic challenges in decades. Unemployment has soared above 10 percent, the government is imposing severe tax increases and cuts to combat a budget deficit, and the national mood is struggling amid rising emigration and violence.

Cardinals and bishops emphasized that the island's 4 million Catholics must pray on St Patrick's Day for an end to Irish Republican Army dissident attacks that claimed three lives this month in the British territory of Northern Ireland ?? and an end to drug gang feuds in Dublin that have left eight dead this year.

"St Patrick's Day provides a moment to reflect on the fragility of our times and our future if we place our trust in egoism and self-centeredness," said Catholic Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

He called for everyone on the island "to send an urgent and unambiguous message that as one community, north and south, without distinction of belief or of political allegiance, we are united against anyone who takes the path of violence."

In her St Patrick's Day message, Dublin Lord Mayor Eibhlin Byrne warned that the city of 1.3 million faced a growing threat of racist violence as the economy sours. Many natives view with resentment the more than 100,000 Eastern Europeans, Asians and Africans who settled in Ireland during its Celtic Tiger boom over the last decade.

She said the national holiday posed the question of "what it is to be Irish in the 21st century and how we blend our old and new cultures."


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