Willie Flags Up An Interesting Question

The ever vocal loyalist campaigner, Willie Frazer, struck an embarrassingly remorseful chord this week after his Tricolour fury was revealed to be a case of misplaced rage.

Having labelled St Patrick’s PS, Donaghmore, as a “junior headquarters of SF/ IRA youth” after believing that he’d seen an Irish Tricolour flying from outside the school, Frazer later retracted his comment once the offending flag was revealed to be the Italian Tricolour of a red not orange hue.

The school principal, Dera Cahalane, indicated that the school had sought legal advice and are bringing the matter of Frazer’s allegation to the PSNI, suggesting that we’ve not heard the last of this matter.

But Willie Frazer has unwittingly raised an interesting issue with regard to the place of flags, emblems and other political commemorations identified with one community or the other within schools.

Last November, unionist politicians weighed in to a row involving the wearing of poppies in a Dundonald school. Then, Unionist MLA David McNarry said the school should be “teaching pupils about why people would want to wear it with pride” whilst the school released a statement saying “Every year Dundonald High school sells hundreds of poppies, making a significant contribution to this worthy appeal. Pupils wear their poppies proudly in all classrooms and every year we have a special assembly for Remembrance Day.”

Subsequently, unionist politicians also got involved  in a row at Banbridge Academy, supporting a petition by some pupils to have the British National Anthem played as part of the school’s Remembrance Day services.

With the British Queen’s Jubilee Celebrations due to commence in the coming weeks, I know of at least one controlled- sector County Antrim primary school which has sent Union Flag-emblazoned leaflets home to parents inviting them to join their children in celebrating the event in the school.

It is not known whether Willie Frazer was- or indeed remains- under the impression that such educational establishments were or are junior headquarters for British state or loyalist paramilitary forces.

Perhaps he will inform us of his opinions on said matters in the days ahead……

Of course, such commemorations and celebrations are merely manifestations of unionism’s political and cultural identity being played out in school settings where the parents and pupils are likely of agreeable minds on such matters.

A couple of years ago, the principal of my own north Belfast-based catholic primary school received a letter from the Orange Order inviting pupils of the school to enter a competition  requiring them to draw pictures of their favourite part of that year’s Loyal Order celebrations.

Clearly the exercise of sending the letter to a catholic school in an area where local loyalists had used the occasion of 11th Night Bonfires to mock the surge in suicides by local catholic male youths was one not conceived of a benevolent mindset, and the letter made its way to the bin with proper haste.

But the continuation of the competition for a period of years indicates that many controlled sector schools (and perhaps others) embraced a competition which doubtlessly would have failed Willie’s shoe on the other foot test.

In which case, are there grounds for unionists like Frazer to complain if schools from the Maintained/ catholic sector actually followed the same course and incorporated explicitly political expressions of the Irish nationalist identity into the school culture?