May the Lord in his mercy be kind to Belfast

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No doubt the flag furore is being debated all day on Radio Ulster which thankfully I haven’t heard, But I was impressed by a calming interview with Gregory Campbell on the Today programme at 7.43 a.m.(Sadly the BBC archive service has declined. We used to be able to access all items separately on the Today running order but this is no longer possible, so you’ll have to move the cursor along on the whole programme recording to find it).

However it was encouraging to hear Gregory adopting the spirit of compromise. Flying the flag at the cenotaph is an interesting suggestion.  My own is that, when the dust has settled for the majority in the Council to propose at least one additional designated day which unlike the birthday of the Countess of Wessex, bless her, has some resonance with people. This could be either the 1st July the Somme commemoration and/or St Patrick’s Day. Both command cross community respect. Unionists and Protestants are to some extent reclaiming St Patrick’s Day as one for them too. It was always part of the Church of Ireland tradition and of course St Patricks’ cross is actually part of the flag itself.

Such a move is only possible if unionists leave themselves open to a magnanimous gesture, learn how to lose gracefully as sign of maturity and don’t completely lose the bap. Flying the flag every day was always forced and excessive.  Mixing the flag issue up with the boundaries and the underlying fear that Belfast  is becoming a nationalist city is self-defeating. Realities have to be defined and faced. To solve problems you need to unpick and deconstruct them, not bunch them together in a tangle of grievance.

Unionists need to recognise that the Union Jack as the UK national flag has some way to go before it is decontaminated.    Screaming and shouting will only reinforce the nationalist view that the Union Jack was always a party flag and remains one still. In their own interests Unionists need to address that, whether they are in a local majority or not. They should note a neat Alliance point that Sinn Fein and the SDLP have for the first time voted for the raising of the Union Jack.

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  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    Direct link to Radio 4 programme [1h 43m in]

    “They should note a neat Alliance point that Sinn Fein and the SDLP have for the first time voted for the raising of the Union Jack.”

    What a silly point from Alliance; it offsets the merit of their motion in the face of Unionist and Nationalist tribalism.

    Flags are important so I object to the use of ‘decontaminated’ in relation to the UK and Ireland or similar flags.

    Perhaps the Good Relations team could produce a flag for BCC around which councillors of all hues could coalesce. This sort of focus is sadly missing from the 1998 Agreement.

  • Hopping The Border

    “nationalists and republicans on one side and unionists and the DUP on the other”

    Rather odd statement from Greg.

  • toaster

    They should note a neat Alliance point that Sinn Fein and the SDLP have for the first time voted for the raising of the Union Jack.

    A means to an end. Next on the agenda is getting the butchers’ apron down all together.

  • pomdotcom

    Can I clear one thing up? The Union Jack talked about on this and other topics is not the Union Flag, it is in fact the Jackstaff from which the Union Flag is flown.

  • GavBelfast

    “Butchers’ (sic) apron” … shakes head ….

    Wiser people would reflect on the fact that Belfast was capital of Northern Ireland as part of the UK yesterday morning with the flag atop the City Hall, and that’s the way it is this morning after it was taken-down.

    Those here who were British remain so. Those who were Irish remain so. Those who were both remain so. Those who were neither remain so.

    I must say that, as I get older, I find this business about flags more and more disinteresting, but there is an argument that specifically raising it and lowering it on designated days is actually giving it greater prominence, than having it flying all the time, largely unnoticed.

  • Ruarai

    Brian,

    “This could be either the 1st July the Somme commemoration and/or St Patrick’s Day.”

    You must admit surely that whatever about the case for flying the Jack on St Pat’s day, there’s something more than a little bit weird with using March 17th, of all days, a day where tricolors are flown thousands of cities all over the world, as the day Belfast would erect solely the Jack to ‘celebrate’?

    On March 17th the tricolor flies from many official buildings (aside from millions of private ones) the world over. My goodness, the Whitehouse even dyes the famous fountain’s water green!

    Surely the thing for Belfast to do is embrace the tricolor that one day, beside the Jack if you wish, signaling that little of Belfast is any longer threatened by or in denial about where it is and that it’s starting to just chill out a bit.

  • http://www.ur2die4.com/ amanfromMars

    Flags are important ….” …. Nevin 4 December 2012 at 11:45 am

    Ye gods, you gotta get out more, Nevin, if you believe that to be true in this day and age.

    Important? Go on then, tell us how so, so we can all see where you’re at.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    AMFM, flags are not important to me – I often drop labels like British and Irish – but they symbolise sovereignty and that’s important to lots of folks. To borrow from John Hume once again – “you can’t eat a flag” and “a flag should symbolise the unity of the whole community” – you might well note that this didn’t stop John wrapping himself in an Irish one in his 3-strand analysis.

  • Brian Walker

    ruarai

    I wouldn’t actually see anything odd about flying the union Jack on St Patrick’s Day, more a gesture of cross community solidarity also recalling a slightly buried Cof I tradition (Saul, Downpatrick) and all my now dead aunties and the young me sporting the shamrock. And the Cross part of the Union Jack itself.

    It was only when I came to Belfast from Derry that I realised all Prods didn’t behave like us.

    The scale of the international fest has ballooned in the last 30 years or so, good thing too, great diaspora business and all that. I’ve joined the official shindigs in New York myself, starting with whiskey at 7 .00 a.m.
    Can’t remember much of that particular day after that except I was nearly run over by a mad highjacker outside St Pats’ cathedral on Fifith Avenue below the BBC office in Rockefeller Centre.

    That would have been an emblematic end, even though I wouldn’t have been there to see it. .

    Prods have been dragged into the celebrations in recent years so why not the only flag which commemorates the saint?

    Come to think of it,Ruarai why not invite them in with all flags flying, tricolours and all?. For one glorious day. Seriously!,

    Part of my antidote to the zero sum game. Instead of “either or” substitute “both and”.

  • Ruarai

    Sure – I’m not against the Union flagging flying per se. I just think it would say something new and mature to have the tricolour up that day too. And it strikes me as odd that it wouldn’t be there on March 17th if celebrating St Patrick’s day is the name of the game.

    I guess it’s just exhausting even picturing an attempt at trying to explain to foreigners why flying a tricolor in Ireland on that day would be so contentious, especially while they’re flown everywhere else.

    Great story on NYC.

    Perhaps the real flag problem is stateside. I make the avoidance of “taking offense” a personal goal for life’s too short but when it comes to flags and St Paddy’s Day, it’s hard to accept how we’ve practically encouraged the use of tricolors around the world as a signifier that The Bar Is Open. And I’m sure you’ve seen the Irish Yoga signs. Brutal.

    I valiantly argue the point with internationals about Irish identity and stereotypes but, especially on St Patrick’s Day, a.k.a The World’s Day to Get Drunk, my capacities are invariably compromised by my imbuement.

  • Hopping The Border

    Brian, according to the BBC St Patrick’s day is already one of the designated days:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-20594139

  • sherdy

    Brian, if you volunteer to carry the Tricolour along Sandy Row, and the Jack up the Falls Road, I’m sure we’ll all follow you – at a distance!

  • Greenflag

    Why not go for the ‘double ‘ and have the Union Jack & Tricolour flown for the annual Somme Day memorials .As the Republic now officially remembers that horrendous loss of life 1914 -1918 . The machine guns and barbed wire did’nt discriminate between Proddy or Fenian blood .All ended up as poppy fodder anyway and prepared the soil for the next bloodbath 1939-1945 .

    At least two days of the year could have both flags in NI represented along with provincial-town councils and whatever else is going for those who are into symbolic cloth in a serious way .

    Far too many flags imo-but then NI has’nt very much else to wave about these days unless one is into professional golf ;)

  • GavBelfast

    These are the current ‘designated days’ … all being well, after yesterday’s news (not from Belfast!) there should be another one next year.

    http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/honours/7126.aspx

  • Brian Walker

    sherdy GavBelfast and friends,

    so they already had the good sense to anticipate my suggestion of St P’s Day? I missed that in the orginal 2000 list. Well done! But part of the point is for the vote winndrers to add an extra day – soi how abouyt the Somme anniversary?

  • Chris Donnelly

    Brian
    Your post serves as a sobering reminder that people here find it virtually impossible to appreciate what makes ‘the other’ tick.

    Stop and ask yourself this question: why, on earth, would nationalists be more endeared to a Union Flag flying on St Patrick’s Day then their own National Flag?

    This is a problem unionism will continue to face unless and until it is willing to respect the legitimacy of the Irish nationalist identity in the north of Ireland.

    Put simply, the way to gain respect is to demonstrate your respect for others.

    So how many of your 17 days will have the Irish National flag flown from civic offices? And don’t tell me it’s inappropriate because this part of Ireland remains under British sovereignty: after all, Robinson’s own Castlereagh Council flies a flag with no legal standing (Ulster Banner) and used to fly the Orange Order’s flag!

  • DC

    The title should be amended to include ‘and Alliance party councillors and MLAs’ after recent threats.

    I don’t normally care for flags but seeing as this was an official removal arising out of a democratic decision the impact was sort of significant as to the future of British culture in Ireland, than say silly fly-posting of flags to lamp posts and everywhere that you get during the summer months, which absolutely sickens me to the back teeth and becomes so so tedious.

    It’s the case of if I were attempting a compromise I wouldn’t like to start from a 365 days position, but that is what has happened, hopefully the elected representatives don’t get abused and harassed any further, but with all sorts of facebook pages popping up concerning Alliance I am not so sure.

    It is all well and good it being Alliance policy to fly on certain days but the flip side is that Alliance has appended this minority party position to a republican/nationalist motion and has seemingly now come out in favour on the wrong side of town in terms of not being on the side where most of its elected reps currently flourish, or have flourished.

    Might have been a good stance and move to pull by the Alliance to fly on certain days if it actually had a unionist sized city council cohort then I guess most people could have lived with the removal quite naturally.

  • Red Lion

    Well Chris, flying the Tricolor off civic buildings routinely or as part of designated days in NI is inappropriate, as those civic buildings aren’t in the Republic of Ireland. I think thats fairly straightforward.

    Er, hate to state the obvious but surely the flag to be flown from City Hall on St. Patrick’s Day , is the St. Patrick’s cross??

    Would you and your Sinn Fein mates support that Chris if tabled? Or would you do like Downpatrick and seek to introduce the tricolour also?

  • GavBelfast

    I think it has also been common practice for the St Patrick’s Cross flag (Ireland’s component in the Union Flag) to be flown from one of the flagpoles a-top Belfast City Hall on St Patrick’s Day.

  • Red Lion

    Gav – is it? bloody hell didn’t even notice! Then again i always went into Downpatrick on St.Paddy’s Day – a rystal clear example of how the St.Patrick’s Cross brings people together

  • Neil

    Well Chris, flying the Tricolor off civic buildings routinely or as part of designated days in NI is inappropriate, as those civic buildings aren’t in the Republic of Ireland. I think thats fairly straightforward.

    Your post serves as a sobering reminder that people here find it virtually impossible to appreciate what makes ‘the other’ tick.

    Amen to that.

  • SK

    ” a rystal clear example of how the St.Patrick’s Cross brings people together”
    ______

    Didn’t many within the unionist community snub the cross-community festival last year in order to hold their own “look how British we all are” style event?

    As ever, it’s their way or no way.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Ruarai:

    Sure – I’m not against the Union flagging flying per se. I just think it would say something new and mature to have the tricolour up that day too. And it strikes me as odd that it wouldn’t be there on March 17th if celebrating St Patrick’s day is the name of the game.

    I think that having a tricolour and a union flag flying at the same time on City Hall would be interesting.

    But the best way to deal with shared spaces is to keep them neutral.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “But the best way to deal with shared spaces is to keep them neutral.”

    Definitely better neutral than contentious, CS. But neutral has a whiff of boring about it, a lack of colour. Would it not have been better to have gone down the replacement flag route? Has no party put forward that suggestion in BCC? As I’ve stated on numerous occasions, the 1998 Agreement hung itself on the constitutional tenterhook rather than list a few shared goals. I co-ordinated an inter-schools group in the 70s and 80s and its success, I think, was grounded on the fact that it was open to all and responsibility was shared. We’ve just seen irresponsible behaviour in BCC complemented by irresponsible behaviour outside.

  • Stiv

    @Red Lion, Down Council never seeked to introduce the Tricolour, so quit parroting Jim(‘ll fix it) Wells, what happened was a Green Party member came up with a compromise to use the council flag with St patrick written on one side and St Padraig on the other. You know a compromise, it was a single SF council member that brought a huge Tricolour to the march (and has destroyed his support for the next elections in doing so).
    As far as the Belfast Flag issue how about you make a critique on the two political parties that used flyers to stoke up tension in the unionist communities, hoping the emtyheaded morons would react in this fashion, personallt i feel the blame lies firmly at the feet of the Undemocratic Unionist Party (UUP), and Demonic Unionist Party (DUP).