Flags, Nationalists and the Contested Law of Equality

8 views

Much discussions over the past month in Northern Ireland has centred around the aftermath of the decision of Belfast City Council to move away from its 106-year old tradition of flying the Union flag every day, to one of only flying it on a maximum of twenty designated days. Whilst much has been written, understandably, with regard to the appalling scenes of violence and ongoing loyalist protests, this issue opens up much deeper issues around the nature of the accord reached in the Belfast Agreement.

The first section of that agreement, latterly signed up to by all major parties (excluding TUV), indicates the acceptance of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom until a decision by the majority of its people states otherwise. The question must then be posed- was the acceptance of this by nationalists contingent upon no visible symbols of this status being reflected, or at least, as little as possible? The standard argument offered by nationalist political representatives is that parity of esteem requires either neutrality or the display of both the Union flag and an Irish Tricolour.

Leaving aside Belfast, one can see that in 11 nationalist-controlled local authorities, the sovereign flag doesn’t fly at all, even on designated days. On one council, the removal of military regalia was deemed essential by nationalists to create a shared space. Conversely, as in other councils, Irish language symbolism is routinely used, presumably without much reference to the importance of ‘shared space and neutrality’ as a consistent requirement. If one looks at the agitation against the statue of Ulsterman and New Zealand PM, William Massey in Limavady, one can see the ferocity of the battle to control the past, as well as the future.

More recently, the decision of Newry and Mourne District Council on the Raymond McCreesh playpark demonstrates a notably different attitude to the desirability of majority rule without regard to the importance of ‘shared space’. Equality thus becomes an ethos employed when politically expedient, rather than a consistent requirement or standard feature of a shared future. Other controversies have seen similarly dismissive attitudes to the use of public money to commemorate former terrorists.

Essentially, ‘equality’ has developed as a distinct lingua franca, a procedural mechanism of deciding contested issues in a space beyond the directly political. This doctrine usually aims to identify a kind of ‘third way’, placing emphasis on compromise between apparent ‘extremes’, in the hope of sustaining a fragile peace. The problem exposed by the Newry/Belfast contrast is that once equality becomes an á la carte doctrine, it loses all credibility, increasing, rather than resolving, conflict.

In defining ‘extremes’, it is important to note there are differing conceptions of what equality and parity of esteem should entail. On one view, these concepts relate to fair employment, the right to express and demonstrate cultural/political identity without fear of social impediment and lastly, as a means of ensuring that access to public funds fairly reflects the cultural balance within Northern Ireland.

From a unionist perspective, an inclusive approach to symbols, such as that seen by the inclusion of Irish language poetry in City Hall or the hanging of Seamus Mallon’s portrait at Stormont, has the potential to encourage a promotion of the Union as the best arrangement for mutual cultural security. This advantage flows from the multi-national character of the broader Union. In this respect, resisting attempts to render the Union flag as a partisan, ethnic bargaining chip is entirely consistent with a shared society, provided the campaign is articulated in these terms.

The second, more expansive view of equality, one promulgated particularly by Sinn Féin, views equality as a means of attaining a prize not won through negotiation, a form of symbolic Joint Sovereignty. Consequently, ‘both flags or no flags’ is presented as the reasonable option, treating the sovereign flag as merely one cultural symbol to be horse-traded with others.

The attractiveness of this argument lies in that it allows nationalists to seek the removal of British symbols by arguing that the flag of one identity has no logical priority over another, safe in the knowledge unionists may be dismissed as hostile to equality by refusing to consent to symbolic JS. Within this view is the assumption that the Union flag is a fixed and immutable symbol of merely one identity- a concession unionists cannot make if it seeks to grow its support base. The battle to define ‘reasonable’ is a low-level, fraught contest.

Michael Gove, in an impassioned criticism of this potential within the Belfast Agreement, quotes then Irish Foreign Minister, Brian Cowen, in a leaked NIO report around the time of the Agreement:

“Beyond the constitutional acceptance that Northern Ireland remained a part the UK, there should be no further evidence of Britishness in the governance of Northern Ireland.”

The implication of a slow, incremental erosion of British symbols within a conception of equality allows nationalists to pursue a zero-sum game without it being couched in those terms. The perception of continual loss is one that can have powerful de-moralising effects, the political value of which was once candidly admitted. Convincing a “section” of inevitable doom is a tactic directly contrary to the improvement of relationships and must be challenged on these terms.

If the Unionist Forum is to have a purpose beyond the urgent need to end thuggery and violence, it must offer a strategic direction to counter the arguments for a symbolic form of JS, in terms which emphasise a shared future of cultural security within the Union.

This should begin with an exposure of the contradictory positions on equality within political nationalism and an appeal for a return to the essential compromise of 1998- unionist security for nationalist and Irish cultural recognition. If political unionism doubted the importance of language on shaping perceptions, it is something it must immediately grasp.

  • dodrade

    Whatever happened to the Massey statue in the end?

  • Mc Slaggart

    Foreign Minister, Brian Cowen, in a leaked NIO report around the time of the Agreement:

    “Beyond the constitutional acceptance that Northern Ireland remained a part the UK, there should be no further evidence of Britishness in the governance of Northern Ireland.”

    Thank you for that. I did not know he said it.

  • Obelisk

    “Within this view is the assumption that the Union flag is a fixed and immutable symbol of merely one identity- a concession unionists cannot make if it seeks to grow its support base.”

    I disagree with your premise. Whether the Union Flag becomes symbolic for everyone, right now it IS a fixed symbol of just one of the identities here in the north. You cannot ask us to judge a symbol based on what it might be against what it is at this point in time. I could as easily ask you to treat the tricolour with a lot more respect because one day I believe it’ll be your national flag. I can’t actually prove that it will happen, I just feel it in my water.

    “From a unionist perspective, an inclusive approach to symbols, such as that seen by the inclusion of Irish language poetry in City Hall or the hanging of Seamus Mallon’s portrait at Stormont, has the potential to encourage a promotion of the Union as the best arrangement for mutual cultural security”.

    An inclusive approach which I have to point out still leaves Unionist symbols predominant. If you want to go this way, I’ll support it. We remove all flags everywhere, put up portraits of Unionist poets and ensure Ulster-Scots poetry is included at City Hall. Everything else goes.
    There, equality all round. I mean if this level of recognition is good enough in your opinion for the Irish cultural identity, then undoubtedly it is good enough for the British cultural identity,

    “The standard argument offered by nationalist political representatives is that parity of esteem requires either neutrality or the display of both the Union flag and an Irish Tricolour.”

    Ultimately you have two choices here. Status quo, isn’t an option because Nationalist representatives will keep pushing. Now those two choices aren’t necessarily the best from a Unionist perspective, but it was never going to be.

    “If the Unionist Forum is to have a purpose beyond the urgent need to end thuggery and violence, it must offer a strategic direction to counter the arguments for a symbolic form of JS, in terms which emphasise a shared future of cultural security within the Union.”

    I’m sorry but if the Unionist Forum actually comes up with something meaningful the rest of us can work with towards a pragmatic goal then I’ll be shocked. Shocked and delighted, but still shocked. I’m extremely skeptical they can overcome their own internal divisions to offer anything remotely attractive to Nationalists beyond the flag goes up, stays up and we give you a scrap at most in return.

    Personally, I feel in the end what will come out of this is that Nationalism and Unionism will end up sharing the symbolic space, but flags (which involve uncomfortable questions of sovereignty) will probably all come down in contested councils because there is simply no comfortable to resolve their presence.

  • Ruarai

    BT,

    could you elaborate on what you mean by this statement:

    “essential compromise of 1998- unionist security for nationalist and Irish cultural recognition”

    Not sure what you mean but I suspect that whatever it is, it’s central to understanding what’s happened, happening and yet-to-happen. Cheers

  • sonofstrongbow

    An excellent piece.

    Unfortunately, as already evident, nationalists will continue to disregard the spirit of the GFA in the pursuit of their bastardised version of ‘equality’ (the Cowen quote indicates that the duplicity was seeded early).

  • Better Together

    Obelisk

    The premise is that you cannot equate a reality with an aspiration- if you sign up to the constitutional reality, yet seek to move at all times to undermine its visibility, how do you suppose that helps community relations?

    Similarly, I note you don’t take much time to address the nationalist record on equality or your view of using public money to fund terrorist memorials. Actually, my argument is that council chambers can and should reflect a variety of our culture, with the flag standing above this as a symbol of what was accepted in 1998.

    Would it hurt nationalist majority councils to have a policy of designated days to counter-balance their policy of using Irish exclusively on council property/publications? Or do you enjoy majority rule when its the ‘right sort’ of majority rule?

  • Ruarai

    sonofstrongbow, what in your view was the “spirit of the GFA “?

    (As with my question to BT above, it’s not a gottcha question.)

  • Obelisk

    “in the pursuit of their bastardised version of ‘equality’”

    As far as I am aware the Nationalist definition of equality is that both traditions are treated equally and one doesn’t get preference.

    The only different interpretation of equality used around these parts was the Unionist definition employed under the old Stormont regime where everybody was equal as long as they saluted the Union Flag.

  • Ruarai

    PS – BT, I think you do raise a good point and generally a good theme with regards to ‘one-way equality’.

    That behaviour, in my view, is both morally wrong, strategically shortsighted, and darn right petty and provocative. It makes people who practice it appear small and somewhat untrustworthy.

  • Better Together

    Ruarai

    My point was that the spirit of the Agreement was a recognition of the constitutional status of NI and conditions for any change therein, in exchange for a guaranteed role for nationalists in our governance arrangements and clear equality screening mechanisms to ensure everyone has an equal stake in our society socially and economically.

    Pursuing low-level campaigns of ‘cleansing’ British symbols undermines the pretensions to a Republicanism of Tone, preferring instead an exclusionary little Irelander approach. Otherwise, what was the compromise?

  • Gopher

    I tend to switch the radio or TV off when a local politician comes on as I’m tired of already knowing what they will say in advance. Are nationalist politicians able to say Northern Ireland yet or do they still refuse to use the countries name?

  • Mc Slaggart

    SoS

    “Unfortunately, as already evident, nationalists will continue to disregard the spirit of the GFA in the pursuit of their bastardised version of ‘equality’”

    So you don’t think equality means that both people should be treated equally?

  • Mc Slaggart

    Better Together

    No one is looking to ‘cleansing’ British symbols if that was the case then places like “Omagh” would have changed quite a few things.

  • Obelisk

    Better Together

    Is not converting most of the Catholic population in the North into Unionists the Unionist aspiration? You clearly stated as such that was the case, your hope that it can be the symbol of more than one just community. At the moment it IS the symbol of just community, and your goal to grow the Unionist pie IS just an aspiration.

    The Flag is clearly the most important and divisive of all the symbols that either side has and is an important juncture of ethnicity and identity so no, I will not consent if possible to one being given any place over the other, because in the zero-sum game both sides have devised with each other it’s going to be the ultimate symbol of victory.

    Even your use of the phrase ‘standing above all other symbols’ conjured in my mind the image of a vast Union jack inside chambers, letting all and sundry beneath them know, regardless of their party or opinion what really mattered. One little turn phrase enough to make me implacably opposed.
    That’s why I believe both flags have to go from these spaces, they really are too divisive.

    I also don’t know where you got this notion that the 1998 agreement was predicated on Unionist security for Nationalist cultural recognition.
    Firstly, the very fact we are having this debate shows Nationalist cultural recognition hasn’t really arrived. I mean the link about the ultra offensive Irish language is to Tom Elliot, a man previously offended by the Irish language being on a council letterhead and now upset he is seeing it on vans. Every other display of Irish cultural recognition feels to have been an uphill battle in the teeth of unionist opposition.

    So even if that WAS the deal, the Unionist side didn’t deliver on their end of the bargain. Except that wasn’t the deal. How could we deliver Unionist peace of mind? By no longer pursuing Irish unity. We never promised that. We promised to seek Irish unity through purely peaceful means, that was the deal and in exchange we agreed to work the system as it currently stands by recognising the Principle of consent.

    That was the deal.

    As for naming a play park after Raymond McCreesh I’ve posted previously but I’ll say it again. It was a stupidly offensive move that should never have been done and the people involved should hang their heads in shame for bringing pain to the victims and for allowing themselves to be portrayed as a bunch of hypocrites.

    As for whether it would hurt Nationalist Council to have a policy of designated days. It wouldn’t hurt the Councils. Might hurt the Councillors after the next election when the dissidents use it as an example that Sinn Fein and the SDLP have completely sold out to the system and need replaced and they start losing seats. Unionists aren’t the only ones who have to watch their flanks, ours seem (incredibly) to just be stupider than your lunatics.

  • sonofstrongbow

    Ruarai,

    I’ll go with BT’s 11pm in response to your question.

    It was most certainly not the Year Zero bin-the-Brit-stuff or fly the Irish Tricolour alongside the Union Flag pretend-its-not-really-the-UK options advocated by at least one nationalist here.

    In the spirit of helpfulness and the hands across the divide thingy may I offer that nationalists would not go too far wrong by flying a new flag. Something with a sand coloured backdrop and a wavy blue line running through it. Add pyramids to taste. Sums up the state of mind beautifully.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’d be really interested in hearing Chris’s view on this… But I go with Ruarai’s well made point that it points to a lack of thought through politics.

    I would like to think the reductio ad absurdum of the #flegs issue would cause more than one player in this curious game to take time out and pause for some serious and original thought.

    And I would further like to think that some form of leadership might emerge thats motivated to develop/create some consistent politics as a result.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Better Together

    “Would it hurt nationalist majority councils to have a policy of designated days”

    You ask that when Unionists cannot take the use of Irish national flag on St Patrick’s day!

  • Ruarai

    BT,

    you’re summary of the GFA is fine by me (though “a role for Nationalists” is a little understated since that role is an equal role to the point where unionists can do nothing without nationalist consent. In that sense, today’s Stormont – far from being a reinstatement of what was there before -share’s nothing in common with its predecessor bar its name).

    I particularly appreciated you recognition above of “conditions for any change therein”. Sometimes I hear the GFA described as “a settlement”; a word that is rarely, if ever, appropriate for describing political agreements.

    Anyways, your description of the GFA makes the rest of your points more reasonable to my eyes.

    Regardless of equality questions, I can see how unionists feel offended and threatened by the general “cleansing” as you call it.

    As a nationalist I find it weak that we seem to be more focused on “removing Britishness” than on building an inclusive Irishness.

    If it’s any consoldation, if the best Nationalism has to offer is a program of “school prefect style” ‘removing’ and censoring and denuding and so on, then this is not a movement fueled by anything confident or attractive. While the effects of such a programme may be an increasing loss of confidence within unionism, the ultimate effects can only be a general destabalization. That’s an outcome that suits no one, including nationalists.

    We’re living through a dearth of leadership and foresight.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Mick Fealty

    I would love you to give us your definition of middle of the road politics in Northern Ireland to which you on other threads you kept referring.

    I am interested for example do you think its middle of the road that the Union flag should fly in Belfast city hall on St Patrick’s day while Unionists object to Irish citizens on a personal basis using their own national flag?

  • Chris Donnelly

    BT
    It’s hard to get past the absurd logic suggesting that the Union Flag represents both traditions, but it’s a telling assertion as it illustrates neatly Unionism’s utter failure to accept the legitimacy of expressions of the Irish nationalist tradition in the north of Ireland.

    Unionism remains wedded to an ‘Irish Out’ mentality, the flip side of the old ‘Brits Out’ rhetoric of republicans. Both rely on a false consciousness narrative which you concede when inferring that the Union Flag can represent both traditions and when proceeding to argue against displays of the Irish nationalist tradition.

    This is a real problem for unionists. The handful of grievances referenced above regarding nationalist controlled councils stacks very lightly when weighed against the scores of incidents on unionist controlled councils, where manifestations of the Irish nationalist tradition are thin on the ground (and that’s before we get into Unionism’s appalling record of opposing power-sharing where they’re in the majority.) Belfast City Hall is awash with stained glass windows, statues and memorials reflective overwhelmingly of the British/ unionist tradition- and then there’s the statue of UVF founder Carson at Stormont….

    The ‘spirit’ of the Agreement was that the mistakes of the past should be rectified- namely, that seeking to construct an artificial state in the image of British unionism alone was a disaster. The power-sharing, all-Ireland and East-West relationships symbolise our identities – Irish nationalist and British unionist.

    The very calling into existence of a Unionist Forum reflects a shocking inability to acknowledge the existence of the Other in a society now 45% catholic.

    Ultimately, political unionism will have to learn that a shared future, in a society approaching parity between the two traditions, will be constructed with equality at its centre, accepting each Other for who we are, not who we want each Other to be. Ironically, this approach offers the best chance at securing the constitutional future desired by nationalists and unionists alike.

  • Ruarai

    Chris,

    a question for you: is your proposal for a united Ireland one where the Union Flag would fly from the Dail as part of a parity of esteem/two traditions agenda – as currently advocated at the present time for NI?

    If not, why not?

    If yes, are you really saying that Sinn Fein will be the party in Ireland running on an agenda to restore the Union Flag in Dublin?

  • Gopher

    @Ruarai

    “We’re living through a dearth of leadership and foresight.”

    I agree with what you said.

  • Better Together

    Chris

    I said unionism ought not to concede that the Union flag is a trival symbol, simply because that is the perception of others. I did not deny there are many nationalists who feel this way, but I also note that in the EQIA by BCC 56% of Catholics surveyed had no strong feelings one way or the other on the Union flag flying. People who dismiss the possibilities for social and economic conditions to bring about change ought to see Irish Presbyterians between 1798 and 1885. The Union has the advantages of incumbency and a tested bout of power-sharing.

    Again, I make the point- Joint Sovereignty was not the deal. One has to distinguish between cultural and constitutional symbols- the respective flags are constitutional symbols of different states. Cultural symbols to me relate to parading, sports, music etc- this is an area in which equality of access and esteem was geared towards.

    I respect people’s right to aspire towards a single Irish Republic- but that is not where we are and the Tricolour, whilst having emotional appeal to many, has no legal status in this jurisdiction. This was accepted by nationalists in 1998, that is not the same as asking someone to stop being nationalists. It’s a specious argument.

  • Better Together

    Ruarai

    Thanks for the generous comments. I think you understand, as a nationalist, the weaknesses in such an approach- it shows little appetite for building an inclusive form of nationalism. It’s rather like the bankruptcy of the foaming at the mouth that goes on in the event of a Census. I noticed many on the Republican side were very quiet after the publication of the Census results, as they painted a much more nuanced picture than their assumptions.

  • Dewi

    “,,,their policy of using Irish exclusively on council property/publications?”

    Do they really use Irish exclusively?

  • MrPMartin

    People vote for the parties they do out of tribalism. Nothing we don’t know already but because of how we vote, the parties who receive our votes make the dangerous and unfounded assumption that their support is an endorsement of their manifestos which leads to such parties making irresponsible decisions based on a support that is given to THEM as tribal leaders and NOT their policies

    Fact : most RCs don’t given a damn about symbolism. I’m a unicorn ie RC supporter of the union but I’d never vote for a unionist party because of their attitudes towards RCs, gays, immigrants etc. people like me may vote SF or SDLP without reading a word of their policy positions. I do but I know many who are like me who do not

    Ditto for those who vote for DUP/UUP

    perhaps individual policies should be on ballot papers and not party labels.

  • MrPMartin

    I vote Alliance by the way in case there was confusion in my last statement even though I’m an avowed socialist which Alliance are not because we need to fix our sectarianism before we address the control of the means of production

  • Gopher

    @Better Together

    The nuance is the death rate, prods are dying off at a slow even pace which is more than covered by their birthrate. The Prod and atheist percentage is the same as 2001 as is the number of Catholics when you take out immigration. 145,000 people died since 2001 and there was absolutely no change in the 2011 elections and the politicians still fight out this silly numbers game. If you took the census figures at face value it should have been the end of unionism but absolutely nothing changed. Sorry apart from a lot of people moving to the suburbs and singles moved to Belfast for lifestyle choices. But as those singles dont believe in god, use recreational drugs and are sexually liberal the DUP will have a far bit to travel to get their vote.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “Ultimately, political unionism will have to learn that a shared future, in a society approaching parity between the two traditions, will be constructed with equality at its centre, accepting each Other for who we are, not who we want each Other to be. Ironically, this approach offers the best chance at securing the constitutional future desired by nationalists and unionists alike.”

    Chris, that’s more or less a summary of my analysis. I’d challenge your use of the word ‘tradition’ as the two opposing constitutional aspirations are emotionally much stronger than that; the ‘Irish out’ and ‘British out’ mentalities bring the hard men on either side to the fore. Currently Peter and Martin are looking a bit wimpish in their insincere ‘reaching out’ strategies so it’s hardly surprising that they’re being outflanked by the ‘direct action’ brigades.

    The Unionist Forum is the other side of the coin from the earlier Nationalist/New Ireland Forum; neither incorporates an exchange of views across the walls that divide; at best all they do is patronise ‘the other’, at worst demonise.

    Power-sharing sounds good but it really only exists in the OFMDFM carve-up; decisions on resources and sensitive issues come down to majority voting, moderated to a degree by fairness legislation. Cronyism will still rule if folks can get away with it and other folks with strong financial resources can use the legal process to gain an unfair advantage. Those who lack clout get trampled on – as can be seen in many stories in my NALIL blog.

  • DC

    I guess the Alliance Party – seeing as they removed the flag in conjunction with SDLP and SF – could bring to the floor of the assembly a motion that all Councils fly the flag on designated days as a minimum, which could save that party from looking foolish because there is currently no legal cover to sustain its own policy of designated days at Belfast Council (unlike Stormont – which can’t be picked apart so easily). Whereas the council can be picked apart using council democracy and majority vote in the future.

    As mentioned above there are 11 councils which don’t fly the flag and that proves that all Alliance has done is bring forward designated days (96% removal) till there is a republican majority to remove the flag (100%) just like the others have done already.

    Alliance – Yey we got our policy – for perhaps 2-3 councils terms..?

    Based on all of the above and republican attitudes couldn’t the flag have been left alone till both Alliance and Unionists were in the majority.

    The only thing that will save the flag from being removed completely apart from legislation is an outbreak of durable, decades long, good relations and republican tolerance and both seem as likely as me winning the lotto.

  • DC

    It really does look as though Reg Empey is right:

    Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey has described the Alliance Party as nothing more than a delivery mechanism for the advancement of Sinn Fein’s anti-British strategy.

    At least as things stand, so how is it going to protect its designated days policy long term?

  • New Yorker

    Why was the issue of flag flying days brought up in the first place? Surely it must have been known by members of the BCC that such a reaction was likely. It is never a good idea to play with matches next to a powder keg. This is not to excuse the unlawful protests. It seems like common sense that one does not raise a non-critical issue when it should be known it would bring such harm to one’s city.

  • FuturePhysicist

    I’m confused is ‘Swinger Bench’ not a prize won without negotiation?

    Is it glossed over by Unionists backing “Gaelic poetry” and a portrait of Mallon?

    The Irish in Britain don’t forsake their culture, neither do the French, yet somehow the British culture of Northern Ireland is under constant threat, even moreso than it is in the Republic of Ireland or France.

  • Mick Fealty

    We’re drifting from the specific points raised in the post…. which raises the question of how “Equality” may be being undermined by a selective and political use of the EC’s good offices.

  • FuturePhysicist

    What good offices of the Equality Commision?

    The good offices that allow Unionists to name a bench after a UVF man, and allow SF and nationalists to milk the Hunger Strike with another.

    Perhaps the one that prevents the overwhelming nationalist population in “Londonderry”, legitimately changing the name which offends them to Derry or gaining dual status, as they could in another British or Irish city while allowing nationalists AND the Alliance party in Belfast to agree to designated days as Unionists in Lisburn did.

    Stopping the natural evolution of democracy, not just against nationalists but ANY party or viewpoint that is different from established conservative unionism, whether that is republican unionism, secular unionism, liberal unionism, loyalist/working class unionism and of course being “neither” unionist or nationalist as we see by the targeting against Basil, Alliance and the PUP. It would be healthy for the Union if unionists avoided narcissism.

  • boondock

    Gopher
    ”The Prod and atheist percentage is the same as 2001 as is the number of Catholics when you take out immigration.”
    You seem to assume all those with no religion are Unionist however the lucid/beltel most recent poll showed most with no religion who voted voted for nationalist parties!

  • tacapall

    “Equality” may be being undermined by a selective and political use of the EC’s good offices.

    In terms of the GFA, equality must surely also be measured by nationalist politicians having the ability to create change politically in a peaceful manner, just like unionism has the ability politically and peacefully to keep the status quo. The GFA was never a permanent settlement nor was it an agreement for nationalists to suddenly cease working to achieve a united Ireland. Sinn Fein and the SDLP both aspire to a united or unified Ireland, they are elected by their supporters to achieve those aspirations politically, creating a level playing field for that future border poll and using their superior numbers to do so is no different than unionism refusing to enact the Irish language act simply because they can and in their eyes using their numbers to keep the status quo. What other way can nationalism achieve their aims or create the environment for a future border poll that is reflective of everyone not just a British identity.

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    There really cannot be any argument about what ‘Equality’ actuall means. The wording in the GFA is quite clear and unambiguous.

    “…just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and
    aspirations of both communities”

    Translated into practice, it means either flying the British and the Irish flag both at the same time or none at all. The notion, articulated by this post, that the Union Jack can ever become a cross-community identity symbol is a fantasy dressed up as a sensible way forward.

    What Unionists should be doing is driving the agenda for a shared identity within a shared future. Instead of defending the Jack-Asses of the streets in Belfast, their leaders should be driving the debate about how we achieve a shared future.

    Giving way on the Union flag and pushing the boat for a shared identity is the right way forward for Unionism. Indeed, it is probably the percentage strategy for preserving the Union as a shared state for as long as possible.

  • DC

    Perhaps the one that prevents the overwhelming nationalist population in “Londonderry”, legitimately changing the name which offends them to Derry or gaining dual status

    Personally I was quite impressed by that one from the Equality Commission, restored my faith in two-way equality.

    What I have come to learn is that the difference re Lisburn’s designated days and Belfast’s is that Lisburn’s union flag is unlikely to face a council vote in the near future ushering in its complete removal, which based on the above comments from republicans this is something that could happen to the union flag over the short term at Belfast Council (once both the alliance and unionists are the minority).

    I have been very impressed by Ruarai’s comments re a united Ireland and the Union flag flying side by side in Dublin loved it! I think it serves to show just how much of a constitutional nonsense there could be in doing something like that in either union, a new Irish or the current British one.

    But, I still think the way ahead is a Good Friday Agreement Garden in the grounds of Belfast City Hall with both the Union Flag and Tricolour flying together, two traditions working together, overcoming the past. Plus the union flag to fly 365 days.

  • Gopher

    @boondock

    I assume nothing the percentage has not changed therefore the ratio of nationalist athiests and unionist athiests won’t have changed by much. The athiests of Belfast, Northdown and Strangford etc don’t vote so that makes your statistic irrevelent. The indigenous population rose by around 55,0000 take your pick on what the breakdown of that is but in 2011 nothing changed. I imagine there is one salient point of that census that has went unnoticed though and it’s to do with population outflow

  • otto

    “I imagine there is one salient point of that census that has went unnoticed though and it’s to do with population outflow”

    When I got my A levels I couldn’t wait to get out of the place and a couple of decades later I’m back. Vaguely “prod” background. I know quite a few the same.

    Just think – If we hadn’t had decades of wrecking the place and there were plenty of jobs up here lots of people might have already moved from the south to the north. The actual percentage of people born in the south up here is what? 2%? Similarly if prods had been less wary of a south that they thought might distrust their background more might have moved south. Plenty of the middle class already use the Dublin universities (both my neighbours had kids at Trinity but they’re back now or in GB). Maybe SF should be concentrating on an all-Island mixing-up and averaging-out strategy rather than the local pissing-off one.

    Need to be careful if police exchange is part of the deal though – some people already seem to think the Garda have invaded when they hear an accent from west of the Bann.

  • Alias

    “Translated into practice, it means either flying the British and the Irish flag both at the same time or none at all.”

    It doesn’t. This has already been determined by the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland:

    “…the requirement that the Union flag be flown on government buildings do not treat those who oppose this any less favourably. The purpose of [flying the Union flag] is, as I have said, to reflect Northern Ireland’s constitutional position, not to discriminate against any section of its population.” – Justice Kerr

  • Dec

    It’s worth noting that Kerr’s judgement was given within the context of ‘designated days’:

    ‘…is the flag of the United Kingdom of which Northern Ireland is a part. It is the judgment of the Secretary of State that it should be flown on government buildings only on those days on which it is flown in Great Britain. By thus confining the days on which the flag is to appear, the Secretary of State sought to strike the correct balance between, on the one hand, acknowledging Northern Ireland’s constitutional position, and, on the other, not giving offence to those who oppose it. ,b>That approach seems to me to exemplify a proper regard for “partnership, equality and mutual respect” ,/b> and to fulfil the Government’s undertaking that its jurisdiction in Northern Ireland “shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions “.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Ruarai
    It is my belief that, wherever ultimate constitutional sovereignty resides, flags and emblems ‘in’ the contested entity that is Northern Ireland will have to be equally respected into the forseeable future. That doesn’t mean the Tricolour at Westminster or Union Flag at the Oireachtas as those are the National legislatures for the Nation states of the considerably larger nations for which we belong in this part of Ireland.

    BT
    Two points arise from your reply.
    Firstly, the Union has had incumbency for several hundred years so good luck with the argument that incumbency has diluted the Irish nationalist identity in the north of Ireland. Again, you’re clinging to the discredited false consciousness narrative so berated by the generation of historians who used it to lambast Irish republicans. Now there’s irony!

    Secondly, you make a good point about the absence of legal standing for the Irish National flag in the north of Ireland. That is something that should be addressed, though not in the manner I’d envisage you approving of. The Irish National flag should be given legal recognition in Northern Ireland in recognition of the complex constitutional and political arrangements put into place in 1998 in an attempt to finally find some common ground to a conflict which has lasted as long as Britain’s writ has held sway in Ireland.

    Failing that, the absence of legal standing should not be an inhibiting factor: after all, many unionist-majority councils continue to fly the Ulster Banner, a flag with no legal standing, and some councils (including Peter Robinson’s Castlereagh) have even flown the Orange Order flag from their civic offices in the past.

  • otto

    You make a point Chris. The separate constitutional aspirations are already enshrined in the Northern Irish constitutional agreements. Why not make that recognition more explicit by having two sets of constitutional regalia.

    A sort of joint authority by (internal) proxy. Which is what we have anyway.

    We’ve got our heads round more bizarre things than that.

    What days though?

  • sonofstrongbow

    A ‘Flags and Emblems Act’ for the Irish Tricolour! Sorry, of course I mean merely giving “legal standing for the Irish National Flag in the north of Ireland” [sic].

    It’s at times like this that I truly lament the passing of George Orwell. The green pigs are definitely taking on an orange hue. :)

  • Better Together

    Chris

    Interesting- are oyu now endorsing that in any proposed transfer of soveriegnty, Northern Ireland must remain a distinct entity? That appears close to what I understand to b SDLP policy.

    Once again- you miss my point. I accept that many Irish nationalists have asprations to consttutional change and do not regard themselves in any sense as endorsing Northern Ireland or a British identity. My point is that the British Unionist/Irish Nationalist binary you pose is inadequate to capture the complexity of identity and constituional preference in Northern Ireland today.

    My point is that Unionism has an opportunity to expand the coalition in favour of the status quo, the conditions are there, whether or not this is admitted to by political nationalism. Nationalist strategy appears caught in a ‘wind up the prods’ approach in order to disguise their lack of an appetite for serious politics- this is a disservice to their own constituency as much as unionists.

  • David Crookes

    Going to say it again. The City Hall has stained glass windows which display certain heraldic emblems. Try using a flag that combines those emblems.

    File:Four Provinces Flag of Ireland.svg

  • otto

    “My point is that the British Unionist/Irish Nationalist binary you pose is inadequate to capture the complexity of identity and constitutional preference in Northern Ireland today.”

    The problem there is that our local constitution (the agreements) recognises nationalism and provides it with (at least negative) power.

    Hundreds of thousands of our citizens and taxpayers carry an Irish passport. We can’t say that the union flag represents the constitutional reality when the constitutional reality is mandatory power sharing between constitutional preferences. Nationalism is not just an powerless aspiration. It already has it’s own (shared) authority.

    We might as well just suck it up rather than pretend it’s not there.

    Get the two flags up and let’s get this over with.

  • tacapall

    “Nationalist strategy appears caught in a ‘wind up the prods’ approach in order to disguise their lack of an appetite for serious politics”

    Such a laugh, what serious politics has Unionists ever engaged in other than demanding special privileges over their nationalist counterparts.

  • sonofstrongbow

    BT,

    Your “wind up the prods” observation is spot on. The Flags and Emblems Act nua didn’t come out of the ether. It probably figures in the discussions that occur in Shinner strategy meetings.

    Someone putting up an Irish Tricolour in a loyalist area of somewhere like Larne for example with the PSNI required by law to protect it is a Sinn Fein wet dream. It would keep the pot bubbling for years.

    I’ve observed a similar approach on a working trip to Jerusalem. Extremist Jewish activists will move into an Arab district and to underscore their presence they will festoon the building in Israeli flags. The IDF is then required to protect them and also move in.

    The Jewish ‘settlers’ refuse to either move out or tone down their presence and standoffs and regular disorder escalates.

    Military imperatives then take precedence with the soldiers building strongpoints to protect deployed troops. In a few week a residential street becomes a defacto mini fort leading to continual aggravation for local residents. Which in essence is the point of the whole exercise.

  • Ruarai

    Chris,

    to this point:

    Ruarai
    It is my belief that, wherever ultimate constitutional sovereignty resides, flags and emblems ‘in’ the contested entity that is Northern Ireland will have to be equally respected into the forseeable future. That doesn’t mean the Tricolour at Westminster or Union Flag at the Oireachtas as those are the National legislatures for the Nation states of the considerably larger nations for which we belong in this part of Ireland.”

    So parity of esteem for the two traditions should only last as long as Northern Ireland exists as a UK entity? Once a united and independent Ireland is achieved there is no longer a need for it?

    Put another way, parity is only required when there is a contested space?

    1. I think you can see why many people would suspect the motives behind such a parity agenda, no?
    2. What makes you think that a united Ireland, or any other outcome, would represent a destination where “ultimate constitutional sovereignty resides”? What would be ultimate about it; why do you think Loyalists wouldn’t continue to contest the constitutional status of a UI, should it ever come to pass?
    3. Should a united, independent Ireland come to exist and it was home to a disgruntled Loyalist community, why wouldn’t you want a “parity of esteem” agenda in recognition of that and for them, whereby the flag they identify with is flown? Why the double standard?

  • tacapall

    “Extremist Jewish activists will move into an Arab district and to underscore their presence they will festoon the building in Israeli flags. The IDF is then required to protect them and also move in.

    The Jewish ‘settlers’ refuse to either move out or tone down their presence and standoffs and regular disorder escalates.

    Military imperatives then take precedence with the soldiers building strongpoints to protect deployed troops. In a few week a residential street becomes a defacto mini fort leading to continual aggravation for local residents. Which in essence is the point of the whole exercise.”

    You do know your own history son of strongbow ?

  • sonofstrongbow

    My personal history? Yes I do.

    Should you be referring to history in general, or specifically Irish history, yes to that as well.

    However there are parts of it I wouldn’t want to revisit so I’d try not to make the same mistakes twice. I’d advise others to adopt the same approach.

  • GEF

    “Get the two flags up and let’s get this over with.”

    That would be understandable had there been joint rule, with joint secretaries of state based at Hillsborough Castle. Could this be what SF would like to see as a stepping stone towards their dream of a 32 county Irish Republic?

  • otto

    I think the obvious partnership would be between the President and the SoS or a Lieutenant Governor GEF. The answer’s probably a resounding yes if the President is elected by the whole Island and a vulgar raspberry if it’s some Blueshirt designate stealing the limelight from Marty.

    But I still think the constitutional recognition of nationalism as a Stormont designation is enough to justify some attendant regalia.

  • Neil

    The implication of a slow, incremental erosion of British symbols within a conception of equality allows nationalists to pursue a zero-sum game without it being couched in those terms.

    When you have everything you can only lose. Geddit? Unionists built a Unionist utopia replete with hundreds of thousands of flags to march past. Irish symbolism was utterly denied. So any move towards equality necessitates a loss by your community – you cannot win more ‘Unionist symbolism’ because you guys just drape the whole place in that crap and have done since day one.

    Perhaps if your community had allowed some expression of Irishness prior to ’72 none of this would be happening now, (because equality would already exist to some degree) but your lot missed the boat back then, and the British then pulled the plug on your Assembly because of the inherent sectarianism therein.

    The perception of continual loss is one that can have powerful de-moralising effects

    Very true. Maybe mainstream Unionism could try to stop spinning things so negatively to scare Unionists into continuing to vote for them then. For example, from the two possible fleg-gate narratives they chose the ‘they’re ripping our flag down, vote for Peter’ line as opposed to the ‘SF are voting to raise the UJ in line with British policy’ one, which may have prevented all this dummy spitting that’s ongoing.

    But as I see it there are only two outcomes re: symbolism in NI: you either expect nationalists to continue operating in a symbolically Unionist dominated space even though they now have the ability to change that, and in spite of Unionism having refused Nationalist symbolism from day dot or you can expect to lose out from your position of absolute symbolic supremacy.

    You also cannot demand respect for your symbols while you continue burning ours – be that outside City Hall or on top of a bonfire beside SDLP/SF/Alliance posters and pictures of children brutally beaten to death by sectarian mobs.

  • DC

    It doesn’t. This has already been determined by the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland:

    Alias – re that determination you have quoted this proves that it could be used to regulate council buildings *if* the assembly could pass legislation along similar lines – this would save Alliance’s bacon re its designated days vanishing in the face of an outright nationalist majority.

    Giving way on the Union flag and pushing the boat for a shared identity is the right way forward for Unionism.

    That would be OK Seymour if the Union flag came down for another one, an agreed new regional one, but to exclude the flag and replace it with nothing and package that as “inclusion” just makes it look one-way street, anti-unionist stuff.

    Also, even if you do like designated days as a sound good relations option it will be gone whenever there is a nationalist majority, the union flag will go like it has gone in the other 11 councils.

    Cultural asset stripping by SF culture vultures and that party will strip away because no one can accede to the impossible that is to have both flags up on the council indicating some sort of equality of constitutional position.

    I imagine however under equality and equality of identity (not equality of *constitutional position*) a tricolour could be put up in the grounds of Belfast City Hall, in a visible spot in order to go some way towards validating both traditions in Belfast.

  • GEF

    “I think the obvious partnership would be between the President and the SoS or a Lieutenant Governor GEF.”

    otto, a President of Ireland can hold no political position during his/her seven year term of office. Whereas the appointed British SoS to NI is a serving MP on the cabinet in the House of Commons.

  • DC

    Perhaps if your community had allowed some expression of Irishness prior to ’72 none of this would be happening now, (because equality would already exist to some degree) but your lot missed the boat back then, and the British then pulled the plug on your Assembly because of the inherent sectarianism therein.

    That’s all very well for the British, but coming from an island – GB/mainland – that hasn’t been invaded since 1066 they may well think that of us all here. It was a nice head-start to have had, and no please don’t go back into the whys and wherefores around why Ireland wasn’t allowed peaceful development. No point blaming, it is about dealing, dealing with the current.

  • Gopher

    Well its looking more and more like a post GFA deal will have to be thrashed out between the parties tying all the the loose ends up like flags, marching and a revamp of the assembly to make provision for opposition plus any other issue that might disturb the peace. It can then be put to the ballot and we can live happily ever after.

  • Neil

    No point blaming, it is about dealing, dealing with the current.

    I’m not blaming. I’m scene setting so that we understand that Unionism has only one way to go from their position of supremacy here and that’s down. Something Unionist politicians should have been saying when the ink dried on the GFA to prepare their community for the inevitable.

    And this is the reaction to a partial removal of one Unionist symbol in NI. Jesus knows what would happen if they tried to introduce a Nationalist symbol, that would be utterly unthinkable.

  • Alias

    “It’s worth noting that Kerr’s judgement was given within the context of ‘designated days’”

    It was a judgement on the applicant’s claim that: “The Secretary of State’s decision to enact the Flags Order and the Flags Regulations was not in keeping with the Good Friday agreement, the applicant argued; it was contrary to advice given to the Secretary of State by the Equality Commission which advice he failed to take into account and it discriminated against those who were opposed to the flying of the Union flag.”

    The Court found that flying the national flag was not contrary to the relevant provision of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 – or, more accurately, that the Secretary of State did not act in a manner that was inconsistent with that provision.

    The ‘offense’ is not that a decision to the flag might be made by the Secretary of State, but that it might be made without due regard for the relevant provision, i.e. to act “with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions”.

    The Court declared that Secretary of State met the duty “to strike the correct balance between” competing identities and traditions but didn’t declare his decision to confine the flag to designated days was the only way in which that duty could have been met by him.

    The Regulations were made by the the Secretary of State in the absence of agreement on the issue among the local political hacks. The Secretary of State made it clear that it was a matter for said hacks, and that if they were subsquently able to reach agreement then the Regulations would be revoked (subject to the consent of Westminister).

  • Alias

    “Alias – re that determination you have quoted this proves that it could be used to regulate council buildings *if* the assembly could pass legislation along similar lines – this would save Alliance’s bacon re its designated days vanishing in the face of an outright nationalist majority.”

    Why similiar lines? It is a cop-out for the local hacks to use a decision made by the SoS, who only made that decision because they were unable to make it in 2000.

    As I pointed out in reply to Dec, the Court simply acknowldeged that the SoS met the duty but didn’t state that the manner in which he met that duty should be the precedent used.

  • Alias

    Incidentally, the GFA is the best guarantor of partition – since only a lunatic would vote to import this unworkable and dysfunctional nonsense into the Irish state.

  • DC

    Alias – thanks for clarification around how it came about, it’s funny how such a decision is referred to in the name of democracy whenever it was created Viceroy-style and undemocratically. Talk about relying on unelected reasonableness or perhaps actually unelected unreasonableness.

    Although I am not sure what point you are making with it and where you want to go using that.

    I think if you were to take that legislation out you are ultimately falling into the council situation where there is no legal way to fly a flag and I am not sure whether that could mean the tricolour could come up or if it did such a legal challenge would arise removing it thereafter thereby creating a law to refer to preventing its reappearance.

    Not sure which law could be used, would it be discrimination or maladministration in terms of a non-constitutional flag appearing in a spot reserved for such a flag indicating the actual constitutional position, or in terms of BCC one that used to be there for such a purpose!

  • DC

    Just to re-state my opinion re the flag – on the basis that neither the SDLP nor SF have moderated their policies on the flag re neutrality, the Union flag will in all likelihood go once there is a majority to see off both Alliance and Unionists.

    They tried to remove it but couldn’t so accepted a 96% removal offered by Alliance till the day Alliance is out of the way and the combined SF and SDLP vote can carry.

    Unless they moderate their respective flag positions, it will go given there is no legal way to fly a flag at council level. SF are clever political chess players. Gotta hand it to them.

  • DC

    Conjecturing that it might be more maladministration re if both flags were to come up than discrimination.

  • Gopher

    @DC

    I’m not really buying into this the nationalist will gain an overall majority mindset. Belfast is behaving like every other city in the world. The nationalist base is in the first stage of decline whilst unionism is in a very advanced stage. This census seen an exodus to the suburbs and satelite towns. Do Alliance voters in Belfast exit to the suburbs?

  • tacapall

    A British appointed crown judge accepts a British appointed lord and masters judgement on an issue that involves the flying of a British flag in Ireland, hardly unexpected or surprising from a republican perspective. The understanding of a nationalist definition of unravelling British influence in this part of Ireland using peaceful and democratic means is obviously not to the liking of the PUL community who are struggling to come to terms with reality, I honestly couldn’t give a fk where the flag was hanging it means nothing to me, its a coloured piece of cloth but if no-one was physically hurt achieving changing the scenery and means leveling the playing field for the future, then its a goal well worth pursuing. The reaction of some elements of the PUL community, those affiliated to loyalist paramilitaries being pampered by their leadership, unionist politicians and indeed the PSNI, who one moment, is declaring UVF involvement in directing the violence, then meeting their representatives to discuss matters while they continue to hold republicans like Marion Price for holding a piece of paper or secret intelligence that no-ones allowed to see, it looks like the special relationship the RUC had with the UVF has been mirrored by the PSNI. The reason why the these protests and violence is being allowed to continue is because the British government allow it to happen those loyalist protestors represent their interests in Ireland.

  • DC

    If Alliance replace the SDLP then that would be good and that would be a new development, I despise the SDLP after everything they have done recently.

  • DC

    At least with Alliance, largely, that party’s heart is in the right place, naive all the same, but nice folk.

  • Gopher

    @DC

    Alliance are best placed to get any immigrant vote going from the increasing population and as they are socially liberal the native singletons who move to Belfast for work and lifestyle choices. Though getting those guys to vote will be a pretty hard task but liberalizing Belfast is probably a good place to start.

  • DC

    Alliance normally err on the side of caution and stay within the unionist camp but this time they were stubborn and went their own way, i think they will pay the price for this stubbornness.

    If i am honest they deserve to within the unionist camp anyway. It’s politics after all, you can’t ask people to come out on to a shared future platform, which even that party has walked away from because of its uncertainty, in terms of hard policy – the terra firma – it is non-existent, it is there in Alliance rhetoric only, the people of east Belfast are no fools:

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/alliance-walks-away-from-key-talks-over-shared-future-plans-16163206.html

  • Alias

    “Alias – thanks for clarification around how it came about, it’s funny how such a decision is referred to in the name of democracy whenever it was created Viceroy-style and undemocratically. Talk about relying on unelected reasonableness or perhaps actually unelected unreasonableness.”

    The Assembly and Executive are subfunctions of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Their Members are elected to perform devolved functions on his/her behalf. You could just as equally argue that it is ‘undemocratic’ for the people of the United Kingdom outside of Northern Ireland not to be able to elect the Members of the regional Assemblies. However, there is oversight and safeguards – and the decisions of the regional Assemblies are subject to the veto of the Secretary of State, being only permitted to act within the specified parameters of the devolved functions.

    “Although I am not sure what point you are making with it and where you want to go using that.”

    I’m pointing out the following:

    (a) That the statement “[The applicable provision of the GFA/Northern Ireland Act 1998] means either flying the British and the Irish flag both at the same time or none at all” is false.

    Justice Kerr has declared that such ‘parity of esteem’ is nonsense:

    “…the requirement that the Union flag be flown on government buildings [does] not treat those who oppose this any less favourably. The purpose of [flying the Union flag] is, as I have said, to reflect Northern Ireland’s constitutional position, not to discriminate against any section of its population.” – Justice Kerr

    In other words, that the act of flying the flag is not a discriminatory act.

    (b) That Justice Kerr found that the duty upon the Secretary of State to act “with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions” was met when he restricted the flying of the flag to designated days.

    (c) I was making the further point that, as the act of flying the flag cannot be discriminatory and therefore cannot be a matter for equality legislation, that it is the flag’s potential to cause ‘offense’ to one community that should be considered by the Secretary of State when trying “to strike the correct balance between” competing identities and traditions. In other words, it is a political matter that is to be considered, not a matter of equality or other law.

    This political consideration to offense can be given in other ways, and therefore the political duty can be met in other ways. It doesn’t have to be the way that the Secretary of State did it (by designated days).

    (d) So there are other options open to consider the offense that could be caused and to try to strike some mitigating balance.

    (e) However, the local hacks have chosen not to ask the Secretary of State to repeal his Regulation, as the Secretary of State said he would do if the local hacks were able to reach agreement on the issue of flags.

    (g) That the Shinners now support a Regulation that the opposed in the High Court, namingly the Viceroy’s decision to harmonise Northern Ireland’s flag-flying policy with the rest of the United Kingdom’s flag-flying policy.

    “I think if you were to take that legislation out you are ultimately falling into the council situation where there is no legal way to fly a flag and I am not sure whether that could mean the tricolour could come up or if it did such a legal challenge would arise removing it thereafter thereby creating a law to refer to preventing its reappearance.”

    I don’t know where you got this from…

    “Not sure which law could be used, would it be discrimination or maladministration in terms of a non-constitutional flag appearing in a spot reserved for such a flag indicating the actual constitutional position, or in terms of BCC one that used to be there for such a purpose!”

    As above, there is no law that can forbid the flying of the Union flag.

  • ayeYerMa

    Neil: “Unionists built a Unionist utopia replete with hundreds of thousands of flags to march past. Irish symbolism was utterly denied.”

    I always have to laugh when Republicans come out with this sort of claptrap. It just confirms the view of many that in their book you have to be a Brit-hating Republican to be classed as “Irish”.

    In fact, Northern Ireland has been decked in an overwhelming amount of Irish symbolism during its existence. Shamrocks (Order of St. Patrick, all over RUC badge), harps (official symbol on Royal Standard and on Coat of Arms, RUC etc.), Red Hands (focal point of arms and flag), Celtic Crosses (logo of football team and on pond coins), St. Patrick’s cross (representing all of Ireland and NI in sovereign flag), Irish Elk (on arms) etc. etc.

    Neil’s problem is that he doesn’t want mere Irish symbolism; rather he wants Brit-hating Irish Republican symbolism. An absurd demand given that we aren’t part of, nor ever have been part of, any Republic (other than Cromwell’s that is).

    If Republicans were serious about being constructive in terms of Irish symbolism then they would be trying to get agreement on some fresh all-Ireland symbolism that could be also be used for the rugby team etc.

    e.g.: http://i45.tinypic.com/2s8n0d4.jpg

    A united Ireland flag already there today. Get your dream utopia and the only change required is that St. Patrick’s cross also disappears from the Union Flag and reverts to the earlier Great Britain version.

  • ayeYerMa

    *pond coins = pound coins

  • Gopher

    East Belfast is gone for Alliance you can’t stick your head so cheaply and stupidly in the noose. Lets face it nobody worries to much about the law of equality in East or West Belfast. Alliance have an MP in East Belfast and did not in West Belfast This simple fact of who proved they are tolerant did not resonate with anyone in Alliance

  • DC

    As above, there is no law that can forbid the flying of the Union flag.

    Yes true it is politics that determines it all, like last December.

    So to make that happen – re bring the flag back – you need to enter into a political discussion with you know who and you ain’t going to just get the union flag, if there’s no law around flying the flag it’s carte blanche, you are going to have to enter political horse trading, just like the council.

  • Kensei

    Ah Slugger. The only place in universe where Unionism can lose its collective mind and Nationalism has a crisis. So in a brief moment of weakness and boredom, the finest wisdom.

    1. There is no “spirirt of the Good Friday Agreement”. Again and again and again and again it has been shown that there is just a deal that was different things to different people, sold as such, with just enough fudge and commonality to keep it hanging all together. In general, any time you are appealing to spirit or culture of something, you’re opponent has reached for their gun, shot you with it, and then preceded to hit you around the face a biut. Three days ago.

    2. Is it possible to corrupt equality legislation and terminology to sneakily give an institution bias towards one side? Certainly. And the Nationalist parties better be doing it. It’s their job to use every advantage to get the maximal results for the people that voted for them, and to try and create structual strategic advantages that help them out. This happens *everywhere* – watch tech companies try to set a standard. This isn’t to ensure a fair playing field, it’s to try and give their product an institutional advantage, or blunt someone else’s.
    And look! You are trying the same stunt. The argument that Nationalism signed up to NI being in the UK therefore Fleg is trying to confer structual advantage. Where did Nationalism sign up to that? They signed up to NI in the UK, mutal vetoes on a range of devolved powers, and whatever they could get done within that. Ah, but, you’ll say, it’s awfully bad for them to oppose those flags. There’s vitamins in the red white and blue. But that there then is a separate argument. It might not be. It might be better to set a new paradigm and move from there. It’s certainly up for debate.

    3. This whole mess is a direct result of Unionist policy. We’ll ignore the stirring and the lighting of torch paper. Unionism does not permit expressions of Irish Nationalist culture in so far as it can. It does not support the spread of the Irish language – even a little bit. It does not support the GAA – even a tiddy bit. On flags, it opposes the Tricolour (unless burning), the four provinces flag, any depiction or effigy of the 1943 Rosccommon All Ireland winners and even watered down Shamrock nonsense is a push. Given the nature of the interlocking vetoes, Nationalism with a mind towards “Equality or Neutrality” is left with one choice. A more militant Nationalism might be minded towards plastering those various symbols everywhere, and the fact you can’t point to a ring of Tricolours in the West is telling in itself.
    But you are right, Nationalism can manipulate equality agendas to its own ends, and its awfully easy because of the continuing legacy of the old Stormont regime. The solution and best strategic move to this is not, unfortunately, to bleat like old men bleating like goats, but to propose a solution that actually embraces equality, and embraces it on a wide basis. Imagine if Peter had not have punted and instead came out with “We respect this as a democractic decision. However there are a number of councils that do not even enjoy the Union Flag on designated days. We’d like to see this change, and we’d like to negotiate. There a lot of Unionist controlled councils where we could do more for Nationalists too.”. It’d have been like Obama come again; moreso, the mere sight of an actual politican saying something in a speech and meaning it could have changed the world. Ah pur sweet, innocent dreams.

    So there you go. Consider this like you would a beatiful shimmy from a fat, aging George Best. I leave you to Alias telling you, like he has everyday for the past ten years, that Nordie Irish Nationalists are British, and the other 6 people who’s names I can’t remember. Except Neil. Good lad that Neil.

  • Kensei

    All that and no swears either. Fuck.

  • DC

    @kensei – the second coming?

    Alias – all you have highlighted is that a law lord or Judge said “I am the lawmaker here, there is no law to take into account the tricolour but I will accept designated days as part of NI’s constitutional position as that makes sense to me because I am the law, so you’ve now got a law on how to fly a flag on government buildings, now piss off.” End of.

    Why end of, because he was the law, he was called in to be that democratic voice, if the assembly had been up and running there would have been no law around Stormont flag flying and it would have been like Belfast Council all over again!

  • DC

    Alias – maybe we are getting our wires crossed, I’ve never said there was a law in place on how to fly a flag at council and have queried from the outset where the discrimination could come from in terms of a detriment.

    If i were to see both the tricolour and union flag up on Belfast City Council tomorrow i wouldn’t feel discriminated against but would think the lunatics had taken over the asylum in terms of expressing some sort of constitutional equality which is simply not there in reality nor legality.

  • Red Lion

    Gopher at 10.24

    East Belfast is not gone for Alliance they have a lot of support, almost by default as a lot of people in the East just want to have a normal life and see that the DUP did their bit to stir it up.For every man out rioting in East Belfast there will be another man or woman cowering indoors hoping their windows don’t get caved in, terrified. There’s also a lot of pissed off people who can’t get to where they want to go without a massive detour. I think East Belfast is pretty much split in two, and the next election will be fairly close.

    What unionism and Northern Ireland needs, is a liberal alternative unionism, that will lead, educate and provide an alternative way, a way that so many people already live their lives by, but which no unionist party seems capable of articulating into a party political message.

    It is so depressing and alienating.

    Step forward a leader like Basil Mcrea and articulate an alternate, secular, liberal, diverse, moderate unionist voice, and reap the rewards.

  • DC

    Alias – re no legal way to fly a flag:

    CONCLUSION

    44. I recognise that the issues addressed in these advices are politically sensitive.

    As I hope I have clearly expressed above, whilst the Council is right to be concerned about the risk of potential claims or challenges, and whilst it is proper for legal advice to be sought in relation to these issues, there is no ‘correct’ legal answer to the question of how and when a district council should display the Union flag.

    45. I trust these advices will be of some assistance to the Council, and its appointed
    consultant who is in the course of preparing the EQIA on the matter, in considering
    the possible legal implications of the various options which are due for
    consideration.

    If I can be of any further assistance, the Town Solicitor should not
    hesitate to contact me further.
    David A Scoffield QC
    Bar Library
    Belfast

    23 November 2011

  • Alias

    Welcome back, Kensei. Hopefully you’ll stick around, as a kind of missed your impudent commentary…

    DC, I’m not a lawyer so not qualified to interpret the law – and, oddly enough, neither are lawyers. The only folks qualified to interpret the law are judges, so it matters how Justice Kerr has duly interpreted it. I’ve pointed out what I think is significant about his interpretation, and am not going to restate it.

  • Gopher

    @ Red Lion

    I still think it will be the Lord Mayors to lose.

    Anyway you are correct a unionist party needs to take the plunge and openly state it is secular and socially liberal. It is pointless chasing after the same decreasing votes. They need to be bold and strike out.

  • Chris Donnelly

    So parity of esteem for the two traditions should only last as long as Northern Ireland exists as a UK entity? Once a united and independent Ireland is achieved there is no longer a need for it?
    Put another way, parity is only required when there is a contested space?

    Ruairi
    Don’t know quite how you so managed to misinterpret what I was saying.

    I’m clearly stating that NI will remain the contested entity regardless of whether in UK or UI and, therefore, issues relating to identity would and should be treated no differently in the event of either constitutional arrangement being in place.

  • Ruarai

    Chris,

    I didn’t misinterpret, I just asked for clarification – for which I appreciate your candid response

    Here’s the thing though, I didn’t expect you to suggest that the parity agenda would extend into a UI context. Since you have clarified that you think it should, that puts you to the “extremity” (for want of a better term) of even the SDLP, FF, FG and Irish Labour. None of those parties advocate flying a Union flag in Dublin in the event of a UI. That you do indicates that at least you have the cojones to follow the logic of your predicate through to its obvious conclusion. Credit for that.

    Let’s however deal with that conclusion. There’s is no way in hell that the Southern Irish electorate will vote for the raising of the union flag (under a “parity of esteem” agenda nor any other) as the price of a UI.

    Accepting this – and I think SF would – you’re on your own here comrade. However heroic, you’re on your own.

    An alternative position starts by dealing with the consequences of a position that leaves you advocating raising of the Union flag in Dublin (and the Tricolour in Belfast); a position that fosters more opponents – net -across Ireland, than it does allies; a position that unites the island -net – in opposition to you.

    Personally, I’ve no problem with someone occupying lonely ground, in fact there’s often an integrity to it.

    But tell me, do you recognize my dipiction of your position or do you see it differently?

    Ruarai

  • boondock

    Gopher
    ”East Belfast is gone for Alliance you can’t stick your head so cheaply and stupidly in the noose. Lets face it nobody worries to much about the law of equality in East or West Belfast. Alliance have an MP in East Belfast and did not in West Belfast This simple fact of who proved they are tolerant did not resonate with anyone in Alliance”

    Alliance are far from gone in East Belfast and will mop up a lot of the remaining moderate UUP votes after this recent farce. As for your last point I dont get it what are you saying people in East Belfast are more tolerant than those in West? You do realise the Alliance now gets more votes from Catholics than Protestants.

    Ruarai
    You keep talking about a Union flag being raised in Dublin but you are not comparing like for like infact you are getting close to Willie Frazer cukoo territory as already noted it would be like Nationalists demanding a Tricolour to be flown from London – which of course they are not.
    Back in the real world what probably would happen in an agreed Ireland is the Union flag being raised with the Tricolour on top of an autonomous Stormont or even more likely an agreed Ireland will have its own new flag!

  • Gopher

    @Boondock

    People tend to lose all sense of perspective, so I will fill in some background with what we know in 2005 Peter got 15,152 votes and Alliance got 3,746 and when you take into account the UUP got 9,275 it is safe to make a prediction about the constituency’s understanding of the constitutional position.

    In 2010 the electorate voted against two parties that they believed had abused their mandate Peter obviously and the UUP for getting in bed with the conservatives. They picked Alliance. The two factors in the unionist defeat are now gone the electorate are once more free to vote on the issues of the day. I’m not sure the union flag was an issue in 2005

    I’m a designated days man myself, have voted Alliance many times but everybody I have spoken top have said the same thing “why did Alliance stick their head in the noose so cheaply”. That sentiment is not going to get you re elected in East Belfast believe me. If Alliance hd went to the people of East Belfast and stood on that platform and got elected sure no problem but again the 2005 election was not about flags

    As to your second question, yes the electorate of East Belfast are more tolerant than that of West Belfast. They are also more intelectually diverse and have proven not to be sheep. I believe in the 2005 election the sitting candidate over in the west was embroiled in some contraversy the electorate there returned him without a whimper.

    As to whether or not more Catholics vote for Alliance I’m not surprised given the nationalist alternatives, maybe they should do so in West Belfast to support the East.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “[The Unionist forum] must offer a strategic direction to counter the arguments for a symbolic form of JS, in terms which emphasise a shared future of cultural security within the Union.”

    BT, we’re confused by a common language here, especially when that language is deliberately abbreviated. The tug-of-war is not about culture or about economics, it’s about sovereignty. In their softer ‘reaching out’ moments, Peter’s context for a shared future is within the UK, Martin’s within a UI; the 1998 Agreement did not provide for sharing here, either at local or regional level; just a limited amount of sharing out at Stormont..

    Electorally, only about half the electorate can be bothered to vote and of those who do about 48% vote unionist, 44% vote nationalist and 8% vote other. Unionist or nationalist forums are not going to resolve the constitutional conundrum.

    Local economies would probably benefit if local elected representatives could work together for the good of all. However, they’re playing silly buggers on the constitutional question whilst more and more shutters are going up on local businesses.

  • DC

    I’m a designated days man myself, have voted Alliance many times but everybody I have spoken top have said the same thing “why did Alliance stick their head in the noose so cheaply”.

    Or in a society that is supposed to be reconciling why have a hand to play in a motion which its opening gambit was total removal of the flag – personally I would have said to that group, if you want the flag down moderate your position yourself and we will not stand in your way.

    Such a cynical, bigoted opening motion from that nationliast grouping in BCC that i am surprised Alliance compromised in favour of that side of the house, i can only surmise relations with unionists have been so bad that they too – Alliance – have also become embittered along with political nationalists in BCC.

  • GEF

    For those who may be interested:

    Policies of Northern Ireland Councils

    Union flag flown
    Council Frequency Location Alternative policy
    1 Antrim every day 2 buildings
    2 Ards every day HQ + 4 other
    buildings

    3 Armagh designated days HQ
    4 Ballymena every day HQ + 2 other
    buildings

    5 Ballymoney designated +2 3 buildings
    6 Banbridge every day HQ
    7 Carrickfergus every day HQ
    8 Castlereagh every day HQ
    9 Coleraine every day
    when building is
    in use
    2 buildings
    10 Cookstown No flags
    11 Craigavon designated +
    others
    HQ + others
    12 Derry No flags
    13 Down Neutral flag
    14 Dungannon designated HQ
    15 Fermanagh No flags
    16 Larne every day HQ
    17 Limavady No flags
    18 Lisburn designated +2 HQ
    19 Magherafelt No flags
    20 Moyle No flags
    21 Newry &
    Mourne
    No flags
    22 Newtownabbey every day every building
    23 North Down every day 3 buildings
    24 Omagh Neutral flag
    25 Strabane No flags

  • DC

    How many of those flag policies have cost £7 million to bring into effect?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-20943293

    Union flag protests cost police over £7m

  • DC

    To the 64,000 dollar question of how to fly a flag, we got a 7 million pounds answer.

  • otto

    What are the three buildings in North Down?

    Re “Liberal Unionism”

    It’s an oxymoron. Liberalism is utilitarian and it’s pluralist. It accepts people (so long as they aren’t hurting anyone) on their own terms. Unionism is only utilitarian if you have a convincing (and enduring) case that the union maximises the well being of the greatest number and minimises the harm caused to the least advantaged. As soon as you start defending the union right or wrong you forgo any claim to liberalism. And putting “unionist” in the party title pretty much commits you to doing that.