Time for Unionism to find a place for the Irish National flag in Northern Ireland

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The Platform for Change discussion on Flags at Belfast’s Holiday Inn last night focused partially on the possibility of an agreed resolution to the Flags Row which could be implemented consistently across the newly proposed eleven local government councils.

It was a fairly tame affair, though multiple contributions by loyalist flag protesters (including one lasting for what seemed like 5 minutes in spite of the polite yet vain pleadings of Robin Wilson for said man to concede the floor to others) did ensure that a touch of spice was added to the proceedings.

These councils will be replacing the existing 26 councils, which have policies on official flag flying which vary considerably from no flags to the Union Flag flying 365 days a year, reflecting the political composition of the respective council majorities.

I find the flags discussion to be fascinating because a resolution founded on the guiding principles of equality and mutual respect has the potential to provide a stable foundation to the vexed issue of identity which can in time transform our political discourse in this part of Ireland.

The culture and ethos of the Northern Ireland state since partition has reflected exclusively the identity of the British and unionist community of the north. That is unsurprising, given that the state was consciously carved into existence to maximize the geographic area within which the protestant/ unionist community could govern as a comfortable majority.

The rationale for partition, oft repeated to republicans during the post-1969 conflict, was that there were- and remain- two Nations residing on the island, and that the crude slogan of ‘Brits Out’ ignored the reality of the enduring presence of the British, unionist populace in this part of Ireland.

Of course, the true losers in the partition settlement were the ‘ghosts at the feasts’, the northern nationalists. Unionism’s victory in securing partition did not secure a stable society precisely because northern nationalism’s status as part of the Irish Nation was suppressed by successive Unionist administrations and ignored by the southern political establishment. Unionism’s own rejection of the Two Nations argument, coupled with an ‘Irish Out’ mindset, kept the pot boiling until simmering point was reached in the late 1960s.

The Good Friday Agreement ushered in a new era for the north of Ireland, characterized by power-sharing, partnership and parity of esteem between the two main communities whose political differences had shaped a sorry history of conflict and instability dating back 90, 400 or 800 years (pick your starting point accordingly.)

Most tellingly, the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement robbed unionism of the whip hand it had traditionally wielded, replacing it with a system of governance defined by the mutual veto which characterizes the relationships existing within the Office of FM/DFM, the Executive and Assembly chamber itself.

The residual supremacist tendencies associated with unionism are evident in the frustrations currently manifesting themselves through the flag-associated street protests, and the oft-incoherent ramblings of the protest voices attempting to articulate the reasons for their blockades perfectly illustrate how disconcerting the transition from dominance to sharing has been for many in unionism- a process further hindered by the abdication of leadership by political unionism, which has sought to lead from behind far too often (the past 8 months alone have witnessed political unionist leaders behave appallingly in relation to the Famine Song row, St Patrick’s Church parade letter and conduct & then the infamous leaflet campaign, all before the Flag Riots kicked off sending unionist politicians into a frenzy.)

Resolving the contentious issue of flags will inevitably involve unionism having to legitimize and find a place for the Irish National Flag within Northern Ireland, something unionist leaders have yet to even countenance never mind float with their electorates.

Yet is as logical a progression from where we stand today as it is necessary from the point of view of any unionist serious about wanting to move past identity politics and into a new era of politics defined by the type of competing socio-economic visions and varying stances on moral issues which provide the political fault lines in many other societies.

Indeed, affording legitimacy and respecting the National Flag of the 40%+ of northern society voting for nationalist parties is a prerequisite step for a vision of a civic unionism capable of attracting support from across the religious and political divide.

The fact that nationalist parties have moved considerably over this issue in recent years reflects an appreciation within nationalism of the need to accept and find a place within a broader nationalist narrative for the British identity of unionists. Indeed, the model conduct of Sinn Fein’s first Belfast Lord Mayor, Alex Maskey, when he positioned the two National Flags of our divided peoples within his mayoral chamber, has provided us with a prototype approach capable of ultimately transcending identity politics.

Unionism’s hostility to the Irish National flag has been a constant theme throughout the existence of the northern state. The Flags and Emblems Act effectively banned displays of the Irish National flag, giving the PSNI RUC the powers to remove flags deemed contentious, as they did in 1964 at the urging of Ian Paisley, provoking the Divis Street Riots.

During the Troubles, the RUC caused uproar at a number of republican funerals by insisting upon the removal of the Irish National flag from coffins, whilst, only 4 years ago, one DUP councillor cited the presence of an Irish Tricolour in a majority nationalist part of Coleraine as the ‘tit’ provoking the ‘tat’ that was the sectarian murder of catholic man, Kevin McDaid (the councillor later apologised for his comment.)

Respecting the identity of The Other ultimately involves accepting and embracing each other as we define ourselves, affording others the same courtesy of self-defining themselves. That means nationalists and republicans accepting the Britishness of Unionists every bit as much as it means unionists accepting the Irishness of nationalists.

It is ironic that both National Flags can make a claim to seek to be inclusive in their very design. The Tricolour’s incorporation of the colours green and orange is meant to symbolize an ideal union forged between the traditions at peace, whilst the Union Flag’s incorporation of the Scottish and English flags along with that of St Patrick is meant to symbolize harmonious union between the Nations once comprising the United Kingdom.

Yet the very idea of coercing The Other into embracing the national identity of one or the other runs contrary to the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

Many unionists will object to the flying of the Irish National flag, no doubt arguing that the Union Flag alone should fly in a region under British sovereignty. Alas, it is here that unionist politicians have shot themselves in the foot.

Over many years, flags apart from the Union Flag have flown officially from civic offices across the north of Ireland, including the British Armed Forces flag, the Government of NI Flag/ Ulster Banner (which has no official status today) and even the flags of the Orange Order and Royal Black Preceptory, which flew from at least one council for a period of time, Peter Robinson’s Castlereagh.

Perhaps conscious of this, at least one unionist political representative responded to my challenge regarding the need to legitimize the flying of the Irish National flag in the north at last night’s gathering.

Trevor Ringland, formerly of the One Small Step Campaign and now a Conservative Party spokesman, suggested in his reply that, in addition to the Union Flag, the Ulster Banner could be flown on some days, perhaps even the 9-County Ulster provincial flag periodically as well as the flag of St Patrick on March 17th. Trevor’s response was fascinating because he essentially was conceding that he’d accept all manner of flags being flown……… except the one in which the overwhelming majority of his northern nationalist neighbours regard as their National Flag.

Some steps still need to be taken………

 

 

  • Comrade Stalin

    It’s not just personal Comrade it is policy too, I don’t believe in Alliance, you can’t just attempt to write off my comments because of your allegation it is personal. Besides why should people rely on your word as a member of the Alliance party, not much credibility there, people could and maybe should take the view that ‘Comrade Stalin would say that, wouldn’t he.’

    Comrade Stalin abides.

    It’s obvious to everyone that something personal is going on here and that it is colouring your judgment. You can’t pretend it isn’t.

    As has been said before the decision making dynamics were oh so different, in one city and council session politicians there were compromising safe in the knowledge that the flag was not under a complete removal challenge

    No no no.

    You said that taking a flag down is an insult to all the people who died serving under it.

    Now you’re saying that taking the flag down is not an insult to all the people who died serving under it on certain circumstances that you reserve the right to define ?

    Not only that, you are suggesting that somehow respecting the armed forces is something that Unionists get to decide and no-one else ? You are aware, right, that there are Alliancers with connections to the army including one of the councillors in Belfast who voted for designated days; or the former RAF wing commander up in Carrick who was in the council chamber when a crowd of thugs burst in and singled the Alliance council group he was sitting among as traitors ?

  • DC

    Well if it is ‘colouring my judgment’ then it has certainly made me more critical which is no bad thing i reckon.

    Nowhere did I say it was an insult I just commented on how the politics looked and it looked bad and should’ve been left alone than followed through on, if there is a rash developing on your body, the advice is don’t scratch it as it will only get worse. Alliance like the others scratched away at it.

    the former RAF wing commander up in Carrick who was in the council chamber when a crowd of thugs burst in and singled the Alliance council group he was sitting among as traitors ?

    That was direct democracy in action versus representative democracy, the council belongs to the ratepayers and citizens not just the Alliance party so don’t fret too much when the great unwashed turn up and start banging the tables about what has been done to their cause.

    You still think it is personal? I mean why would anyone believe Alliance is cross-community and non-sectarian whenever it moved across community leaving the other one behind and in doing so provoked sectarian riots and £15+ million policing bill. Is this really what a good hard-headed cross-community party should be doing. Remember I said I don’t believe Alliance is what it purports to be and based on the above where is the evidence to support its claim re peace builders than good relations wreckers in terms of the fall out from its flag compromise?

  • Morpheus

    Alliance bashing…seriously?

    A fact that cannot be disputed is that 48.58% of the population of Belfast are from a Catholic background – a majority. The people of Belfast democratically elected representatives and those representatives made a democratic decision to make Belfast City Hall more representative of the people of Belfast.

    Equal representation was clearly not an option (despite the fact that the Good Friday Agreement recognizes “just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities”) so a vote was taken for the next best thing – neutrality.

    This should have been a simple housekeeping exercise to bring Belfast City Hall into line with the rest of the UK – and quite frankly the mechanisms should have already been in place to ensure that Belfast City Hall and all government buildings are either equal or neutral – but instead it was blown out of all proportion by the now notorious DUP/UUP leaflet drop to 40,000 homes in East Belfast.

    If the leaflet was to force the Alliance Councilors on Belfast City Hall to change their policy on flying the Union Flag on designated days (in accordance with Equality Commission and legal advice and in line with the rest of the UK) then why were the leaflets only circulated in East Belfast and why did they target Naomi Long who isn’t even on Belfast City Council and who is not the leader of The Alliance Party? This whole sorry mess was about one thing and one thing only – to run the Alliance party out of Northern Ireland so the DUP/UUP can take Naomi Long’s Westminster seat/salary/pension and the 6 Alliance seats on Belfast City Council.

    Peter Robinson himself said:
    “You will not change by one day the flying of the flag at the city hall by throwing a petrol bomb at the police. The means for change is through the political process and everybody knows that Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party are not going to vote in a different way at the city hall; the only way to get changes is to get elected representatives there who are in a majority and who can take those decisions”

    Where was that logic when the leaflet was being created Mr Robinson?

    The DUP/UUP have again used the age old trick of whipping ordinary working class loyalists into a bloody frenzy, disavowing them at every opportunity so their hands are ‘clean’, then sitting back and watching while the protesters take to the streets thinking they are defending Ulster while in reality they are merely pawns in the political games of the DUP/UUP.

    The DUP/UUP created a monster which took to the streets and now they can’t control it and don’t know how to put it back into it’s cage. Their silence and lack of leadership has been nothing short of astounding.

    The protesters want to ‘Smash The Alliance Party’? They should be thanking them for taking the position they did and showing the strength and integrity they have in abundance because without them the flag wouldn’t go up at all.

  • DC

    The flag policy is open to change again next term in Belfast, there are 10 nationalist councils that fly no flags which is outside of equality advice and uk guidelines and it could be viewed that only unionists should be forced to live up to the spirit of good relations and reduce the flag, just because somebody somewhere having a guilty conscience based on a narrow reading of NI’s past usually constructed around the role of the British Army in Ireland.

    Lisburn did opt for designated days, how many nationalist councils have broken rank and opted to fly the flag on designated days?

    The flag decision should be judged in the context of the IRA-named play park by newry and mourne council, another two fingers to equality and victory for exclusivist politics at the expense of minorities.

    This whole sorry mess was about one thing and one thing only – to run the Alliance party out of Northern Ireland so the DUP/UUP can take Naomi Long’s Westminster seat/salary/pension and the 6 Alliance seats on Belfast City Council.

    The only people who will being running Alliance out – if at all – will be the people via democracy and if a leaflet makes Alliance vulnerable then it should do politics better and learn how to get itself off the hook; the good idea would be to pause the decision till next term and issue a counter-leaflet themselves to condition the electorate for change, rather than allow a direct hit to be landed, leading to potential knock out.

    I am not wasting my vote on such a party if it can’t fight back and use its head to avoid being pinned down like it has been; but worst still, to plough on pigheaded and ruin relations and cause havoc in doing so, no thanks!

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Belatedly entering this one and apologies for not reading all the posts, just Chris Donnelly’s original one. Main point is that it’s not as simple as saying ‘let’s have parity of flags’, because a national flag can have at least two roles:
    1. a flag of sovereignty, where the official flag of a national territory is flown in that national territory. The legitimacy of the flag flying and its status is a recognition of the fact that the area democratically agreed to be part of that state, so it has not only ‘official’ status but also an added democratic significance.
    2. a flag of identity, where people fly a flag because it means something to them. This can be a meaning that is entirely personal.
    The assumption that the the fairest answer is parity of flags is fine if we’re only thinking about No.2 but hits the rocks when we think about No.1. It’s not enough to simply say ‘official schmofficial’ (actually that’s really hard to say, I’ve just tried) – the status of the actual proper legal flag of the state means something more than just an arcane legal point or some freako Tory obsession with protocol. It’s about respecting the democratic choice on sovereignty people made. People did not vote for joint authority, indeed it wasn’t even put to them – what people have said they want is British sovereignty. This doesn’t mean there is an obligation to feel all warm about the flag if you’re from a nationalist background, or even a unionist one, but I think there is an obligation to respect the choice the Province has made.

    Nationalists are free to use the tricolour privately, this isn’t imposing the union jack on people, but it is saying the union jack has a democratic status in NI which the tricolour simply does not – and it’s tied to the people’s decision on what country NI should be part of. If nationalists want another vote on sovereignty, I’m all for it – but please accept the consequences of that, which includes what the national flag is.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Oh I should add though I’m all for finding *a* role for some kind of flag in public life that nationalists want, albeit not a constitutional one. I’m also very much in favour of designing a new cross-community Northern Ireland flag. I’d favour something with the St Patrick’s cross, red hand and some green in there somewhere – I’ve seen some great designs. Not necessarily a crown in there.

  • Kevsterino

    MU, I think the Union flag would be more acceptable were it not for its misuse by various loyalist groupings. A national flag should never be used by one grouping within the nation to alienate others within the nation. As has been pointed out many times before, such a flag is devalued as a national symbol when it is used that way.

    It is one of the most ironic aspects of the ongoing protests.

    The worst use of a national flag is shoving it down your neighbor’s throat.

  • Morpheus

    MU, when travelling to the mainland there are very few people who see the Union Flag on Manchester or Liverpool City Hall and think ‘Grrr that flag offends me so much.’ The issue is how the flag is used here in Northern Ireland – it is used in the most un-British way as a weapon (sometimes literally), a marker of territory and a symbol of superiority/triumphalism. How it is used here is a million times removed from how it was used at The Jubilee and The Olympics.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Kevsterino
    I totally agree with you regarding the Union flag being abused by various loyalist groupings. These “super loyalists” are not in the majority in my community but have caused great damage to unionism by their actions. Likewise the ” super republican minority” have used and abused the tricolour and have made it unacceptable to unionists.

    It was good to see at yesterdays Scotland Ireland game fans flying the Republics tricolour and the NI flag at the ground. It has been a long time since anyone has flown the NI flag at an Ireland game. Maybe,
    just maybe, the IRFU will fly this flag at The Aviva in recognition of the contribution to Irish rugby by people from the unionist tradition.

  • FDM

    @Mainland Ulsterman

    “Oh I should add though I’m all for finding *a* role for some kind of flag in public life that nationalists want, albeit not a constitutional one”

    Haven’t read anything that nit-picking and pathetic in ages. Cheers me up when unionists get that costive. :)

    Keep up the good work.

  • Comrade Stalin

    DC,

    All you’re spouting is nonsense. Take this for example :

    The flag policy is open to change again next term in Belfast, there are 10 nationalist councils that fly no flags which is outside of equality advice and uk guidelines

    Flying no flag on a council building is not outside of equality advice.

  • DC

    Glad to see you’ve got back your vigor, Comrade.

  • Morpheus

    “…there are 10 nationalist councils that fly no flags which is outside of equality advice and uk guidelines”

    Well the councils still can’t have equality (despite what the GFA says) of representation so they have gone for neutrality, where’s the problem there? The population is almost 50-50 so should be represented 50-50 in all public buildings/spaces. If equality is not do-able then neutrality is the way to go.

    It’s boring but until we can all get along and make progress on education, housing, jobs etc and build a better future for our kinds then I think we should go beige.

  • DC

    Well the councils still can’t have equality (despite what the GFA says) of representation so they have gone for neutrality, where’s the problem there?

    Spitefulness? Intolerance to the union flag?

    There is still a live, living union with Britain that constitutionally should merit flying of the union flag on designated days as bare minimum across NI.

    Like i said elsewhere, it is up to political nationalists to get their tradition recognised and off the ground so to speak and how they do that is a discussion which they should have. But there’s no need to ground the union flag in the process, hopefully Alliance-types will fix a fight with political nationalists to get the union flag up by 5% from zero than down in unionist ones by 95%, but we will all have to wait and see.

    There is as mentioned nothing legally, politically or democratically stopping nationalist-run councils from flying any flag they like and I am surprised they don’t seeing as they don’t seem to pay that much regard to equality advice any way. Proof being the IRA play park and SF being found in recent times to have discriminated against.

  • FDM

    @DC

    the IRA play park

    ———————-

    The IRA have a play park?

    Thats an outrage! The rest of us have to get the boat to Alton Towers.

    Disney anyone care about this?

  • Morpheus

    The naming of the play-park is as abhorrent to me as it is to you. As it is a public play area it should be neutral, taking us back to my original point.

    We are all equals sharing a small piece of land and decisions should be made for the good of everyone, not one camp lording over the other.

    I keep hearing that we all want equality but it always seems to come with terms and conditions.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    DC, picking carefully through that are you saying you are ok with designated days and both flags? If you are and I’m pretty certain you are, I’m ok with that too and I think a lot of others may be too, even CS as it goes beyond alliance policy which, eh,… No I’m not going there

  • FDM

    They grow tiresome.

    Negative people are so very, very dull.

    You can’t force people to be happy and so we should not try.

    Whilst this is the place where they were once happy, the time they were happy is now gone.

    Outside of the musings of H.G. Wells, time moves in only one direction and those who do not chase it and change with it, are lost to histories dusty volumes.

    All that is left of the Union men is angry men, bitter men and yesterdays men.

    Amen.

  • George

    DC,
    Like i said elsewhere, it is up to political nationalists to get their tradition recognised and off the ground so to speak and how they do that is a discussion which they should have.

    Maybe political nationalists have had that discussion and figured that the best way of making unionists appreciate what it is like not to have your tradition recognised is to advocate the “neutral” tradition policy now adopted.

    Now unionists and nationalits are in the same boat on this issue, which is an equality of sorts.

  • DC

    Alliance do not support both flags and you are sort of right about designated days, the union flag should be up in all councils on designated days, but re the nationalist tradition and flag, any flag, even the european flag, that’s a matter for political nationalism, just don’t take the union flag down in the process.

    George – look at the title above, it was a call for unionists to accept the tricolour, the reality really is that there is nothing legally, politically or democratically at this stage, today, stopping nationalist-run councils from flying any flag they want, you do not need political Unionism for that at all.

  • DC

    Although the use of the word ‘Northern Ireland’ in the title is somewhat progressive and has been noted.

  • FDM

    “DC

    Although the use of the word ‘Northern Ireland’ in the title is somewhat progressive and has been noted.

    ———————————-

    Sorry pedants corner. ‘Northern Ireland’ would be a phrase containing two words. One of them being a country the other you will find is a direction.

    Additionally I find it rather strange that people try to identify with a bearing of the compass. Are people from Malin Head “Really Northern Irish” or “I can’t believe its not Northern Irish” or “Northern Irish Sqaured” or “Irish Eskimos” or “Icelanders” or “Northern Arctic Monkeys”.

    Maybe you are trying to allude to Hamlet and are “but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”

    But sure we know everyone from Coleraine is a few Queen’s shillings short of a pound. Who is the local MP? The case for the prosecution rests.

  • George

    DC,
    looking at the instability and violence unleashed by the reduction of the union flag flying days, I would hazard a guess that nationalist politicians know full well what the consequences would be of raising the tricolour.

    Such a momentous step can only happen with the agreement of unionist politicians and the acceptance of the unionist community. Perhaps nationalist politicians see this step on the path to equal recognition of both traditions being an easier one if the first appearance of a tricolour coincides with the return of the union flag outside some council office somewhere in Northern Ireland.

    It certainly seems a more sensible approach than simply hoisting the tricolour and hoping that all hell does not break out.

  • FDM

    @George

    “Such a momentous step can only happen with the agreement of unionist politicians and the acceptance of the unionist community”

    George the unionist community can’t even bring themselves to a decision to make the seats in the new Windsor Park development to be green, even though the side play in that colour.

    Such is their antagonism to anything with even remotely Irish connatations.

    If you think for one minute I for any of the CNR community are going to let protestant nationalists [they certainly are not Unionists] hold back democracy then you need your head read.

    It is a short life and we just don’t have the time to be pandering to the bigotry of others. We are here to live our lives not by the leave of others. We had the latter for generations. Not any more and never again.

    Got it. Good.

  • Otto

    FDM

    I know, right!!

    I mean how do people in Malin sleep at night not knowing which ways north and which ways south. Must play havoc with the Feng Shui.

    It’s even worse in America. Look at this. Virginia is in red. “West Virginia” is sort of to the north west but that bit of Virginia at the bottom is definitely pointing a bit more westerly that the most westerly part of “West Virginia”. I mean FFS! You should write to Obama and get it changed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Virginia_in_United_States.svg

  • Otto

    “Perhaps nationalist politicians see this step on the path to equal recognition of both traditions being an easier one if the first appearance of a tricolour coincides with the return of the union flag outside some council office somewhere in Northern Ireland.”

    Great idea. Well said George.

  • FDM

    @Otto

    I mean FFS! You should write to Obama and get it changed.

    —————————

    I think the point I was driving home is the idiocy that some people in this region would call the residents of Malin Head Southern Irish.

    If we are talking compass bearings they out-North us, we are all Southerners to them.

    Pedantry aside the important point is this. I personally have no problem with people self-identifying with a bearing of the compass, that really is their choice. I am not going to dictate to them. I am a big one for choice. However I won’t be dictated to about how I define myself and indeed how I describe where I am from.

    I’m an Irishman from Ireland, at a push from Ulster, pushed more from Antrim, pushed more from Belfast.

    That is where the story ends.

  • Otto

    @FDM

    I’ve decided that as we’e all mental here and as we’re coping with change I’m going to start rating everyone according to their progress along Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief. I have no medical or therapeutic training so this will be even more annoying and patronising than normal.

    At the party level we have

    Denial (NI Tories – why can’t you Irish just get along?)

    Anger (Jim Allister & UPC – IT’S AN OUTRAGE!)

    Bargaining (Humeism – the SDLP’s repartitionist wing as represented here by Fitzjameshorseburger)

    Depression (everyone who used a gun and won the GFA)

    Acceptance – me!

    I’m putting your recent comments somewhere between Denial & Bargaining FDM (definitely occasional spots of Anger). You’re accepting NI’s not going anywhere but you’ll just pretend you’re not a part of it.

  • FDM

    @Otto

    I’m putting your recent comments somewhere between Denial & Bargaining FDM (definitely occasional spots of Anger). You’re accepting NI’s not going anywhere but you’ll just pretend you’re not a part of it.

    ———————————-

    Well I don’t like the fact that some Welsh bloke with a penchant for ladies of the night in 10 Downing Street got to draw some arbitrary line on my Island splitting the Irish people under threat of total war.

    It was an undemocratic decision then and it hasn’t stood the test of time.

    If “Northern Ireland” is a state it is a festering boil of one in which I have no faith and owe no fealty to. It has been a political cripple for 50 years and an is currently an economic basket case to boot.

    We had 52 years of Unionists charming us literally to death with their version of leadership and governance. Those fellas could charm the paint off walls. It led us to within a hairs breadth of open civil war.

    The past doesn’t really make me that angry. Its protestant nationalists having the complete audacity to continue STILL after all we have been through trying to telll me what I am, what I can and can’t be, that I have to have their acquiescence to do anything. Their complete and utter failure to realise that they are not in an ascendant position anymore. The complete and utter failure to recognise that they aren’t even a majority in the place anymore. Yet we should all jump to their tune and can’t move on without their say so? Backside.

    In terms of bargaining. The devil and I are practical men and are obviously willing to reach accommodations. However it takes two to tango. How do you negotiate with peple who hold up banners that say “Democracy doesn’t work”? How do you negotiate will people who are nihilistic enough to scorch earth the entire region so long as no further change takes place? “No surrender”, “Never, Never, Never”, “We won’t be the generation to fail Ulster”. Spare me.

    Acceptance? I accept the GFA. The semantic point that protestant nationalists like to dodge is the fact that this was not a terminus agreement. It contains centrally in it a clause that the train moves further on down the track if the majority of the train want it to. When you bring this up they cry like babies.

    If there is a point on that scale for REALISTS stick my name beside it.

  • Otto

    “How do you negotiate with people who hold up banners that say “Democracy doesn’t work”? How do you negotiate will people who are nihilistic enough to scorch earth the entire region so long as no further change takes place? “No surrender”, “Never, Never, Never”, “We won’t be the generation to fail Ulster”. Spare me.”

    You can’t – they’re still stuck at Denial/Anger. They need constant reminders of the reality and the forward only setting on change here so they can move on to Bargaining.

    That’s why we’re all pissed off with Matt’s lack of resolution.

  • changeisneeded

    Mainland Ulsterman
    “Nationalists are free to use the tricolour privately”

    Incorrect. Show me a house in the north with a tricolour outside it. You won’t find one because by doing so would almost certainly result in having your windies put in or worse, as in the case of Kevin mc Daid kicked to death
    ….. stop with the lies or get with reality….

  • FDM

    @Otto

    They need constant reminders of the reality and the forward only setting on change here so they can move on to Bargaining.

    ———————————–

    You are right there. The problem with the GFA is that the PUL community were TOLD by THEIR leadership that THE DEAL IS DONE.

    They were TOLD that what was agreed at that point in 98′ was the terminus.

    Unionist leadership again. Sorry to put those two words in the same sentence together. Oxymoron.

    Even if we negotiated again, they would still think they had reached another terminus.

    Change is like vampiric sunbathing to them, its an anathema, to be avoided at all cost.

  • Otto

    @FDM

    Even if we negotiated again, they would still think they had reached another terminus.

    ——————————————

    Stephen Agnew’s on the ball with his idea for a constitutional convention / conversation. Best that we make any changes to the GFA after more open discussion than just requesting a amending act from the SOS. That might give people a chance to see change is something that’s just going to keep on happening.

  • Ulster Press Centre

    FDM: You are right there. The problem with the GFA is that the PUL community were TOLD by THEIR leadership that THE DEAL IS DONE. They were TOLD that what was agreed at that point in 98′ was the terminus. Unionist leadership again. Sorry to put those two words in the same sentence together. Oxymoron. Even if we negotiated again, they would still think they had reached another terminus. Change is like vampiric sunbathing to them, its an anathema, to be avoided at all cost.

    You seem to be suggesting trying to reach a peaceful settlement with NI Nationalism is pointless.

    The only other option in the past (and possibly in future) would be a full military victory (a la Sri Lanka) – is that what you would prefer??

  • Morpheus

    I don’t get all this talk of changing the GFA, implementing an opposition etc. Where was this talk 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago or prior to December 2012?

    The GFA was drawn up with the overwhelming support of the people in Ireland, both North and South of the Border. It also had the agreement of the British and Irish Governments and was essentially overseen by the American Government.

    The DUP don’t like it? So what, they are only 16% of the electorate.

  • Kevsterino

    FDM, when any people within any nation believe that they are the sole owners of the nation, that they alone are the nation’s people, only their will is the national will, I expect them to have problems with minority groups.

    I read, occasionally, the postings of some loyalists who have modified their old argument that a majority of voters in Northern Ireland need to agree to any change in constitutional status. They now write that it requires a majority (and a large one at that) of protestant voters to effect any change. And they still want to call it ‘democracy’.

    So it goes…

  • Otto

    “I don’t get all this talk of changing the GFA, implementing an opposition etc. Where was this talk 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago or prior to December 2012?”

    To be fair Alliance didn’t like the original deal as they thought it would put us about where we are a decade and a half later. The SDLP have talked about ungly scaffolding. The only people who haven’t really discussed amendment are Sinn Fein.

    The challenge is how do you do anything else without leaving people permanently out/behind?

    I don’t know if there is or can be an answer to that but it’s worth opening the discussion even if we all just agree to keep what we have but clarify exactly what that is and try to run it better.

    “They now write that it requires a majority (and a large one at that) of protestant voters to effect any change. And they still want to call it ‘democracy’.”

    Isn’t that the spirit of the GFA? At least 40% of each designation? If it’s good enough for legislation why not constitutional change?

  • Kevsterino

    40% sounds reasonable. I think you may have misread my post, or at least the main point of it, Otto.

  • Otto

    You’re right – I missed “and a large one”.

  • Morpheus

    Where did the 40% of each designation figure come from?

    The GFA says:
    The participants endorse the commitment made by the British and Irish Governments that, in a new British-Irish Agreement replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement, they will:
    (ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;

    A majority then would be 50%+1. If the referendum was held back in 2011 with the Assembly elections (purely for the fact that we have data for this) that would mean 605,005 of the electorate voting Yes.

    Personally, I think NI is still far, far away from this.

  • Otto

    Petitions of concern. We were saying that if 60%+ disapproval from a designation is enough to prevent legislation in the Assembly then someone arguing against simple majorities for constitutional change might reasonably argue for the same threshold.

  • Otto

    Which would be a bit mental in the case of constitutional change as one of the designations is “Unionist”.

  • Kevsterino

    Some of the procedures at new Stormont, I confess, remind me of the political peasant in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

    “Executive power comes from a mandate from the masses” etc.

  • Morpheus

    Interesting Otto.

    How does a Petition of Concern apply in this instance? These apply to any vote taken by the Assembly – the United Ireland question would be answered by a referendum of the people would it not?

  • Greenflag

    The GFA is not for changing any time soon .It took 40 years to get even that into law and enactment . No NI Nationalist or Republican is going to trust any Unionist political majority with sole governance of Northern Ireland -ever again .

    The current flag controversy is proof enough that a strong undercurrent of anti democratic fascism runs through enough of the loyalist and unionist communities to ensure that change to the GFA will not find favour with nationalist or republicans for another generation or more .When loyalists and unionists start treating the Irish Tricolour with the respect it deserves they may discover that respect works both ways .

    It’s not 1912 , 1920 nor 1969 nor 1998 anymore .

    Simple majority rule will not work in an absence of full constitutional trust which is why the GFA is the only solution which can work in NI at this time .
    Will it last forever ? No -nothing lasts forever not even ‘unionism ‘ It’s an outdated political credo with a disintegrating and declining base of support and the rest of us just have to tolerate it as long as we have to and be mindful of it’s more extreme manifestations which endanger everybody in NI -unionist and non unionist alike .

  • Neiln_belfast

    Chris why continue to hark back to the past ? Today’s Northern Ireland is consensual and an intregal part of the UK..
    It is all hypothetical of course but if we suddenly found ourselves in a unified republic of ire, would the union flag fly beside the Irish tricolour?

  • Otto

    “How does a Petition of Concern apply in this instance?”

    I don’t think it could. I was just following the logic of Kevsterino’s info about loyalists saying a majority of unionists/prods would need to agree to constitutional change as a separate community.

    It’s the logic of the system that puts us in these blocs. I don’t think it’s a great system but I also don’t see how those who support it think a simple majority is fine for changing the country we’re in but that super-majorities with cross-community support are required for upgrading roads.

    http://allianceparty.org/article/2011/005768/frustration-at-political-injunctions-blocking-a5-debate

    You might as well say petitions of concern should only be available to nationalists.

  • Otto

    “he GFA is not for changing any time soon. It took 40 years to get even that into law and enactment . No NI Nationalist or Republican is going to trust any Unionist political majority with sole governance of Northern Ireland -ever again .”

    That’s a big scary scarecrow of a straw man.

    The suggestions for ending designation are generally a move to weighted majority on all legislation – so governments and councils would always need 2/3rds majority support, coupled with statutory protections, oversight by ombudsmen and agency independence.

    The current system underpins unionism as it requires a unionist designation to work and gives the tribal leader of that designation an FM position.

  • Morpheus

    “You might as well say petitions of concern should only be available to nationalists.”

    Bit of a leap there Otto. Surely both sides cancel each other out resulting in nothing getting done.

    As a Unionist do you think that Unionist Leadership could have done more to prepare the people for the changes that were coming? It seems at the minute that all these changes as we progress to a 50-50 society are coming as unacceptable shocks to the average unionist

  • boondock

    Neiln
    Chris why continue to hark back to the past ? Today’s Northern Ireland is consensual and an intregal part of the UK..
    It is all hypothetical of course but if we suddenly found ourselves in a unified republic of ire, would the union flag fly beside the Irish tricolour?

    Pretty sure we would have a new flag in that situation but to take your hypothetcal situation further if there wasnt a new agreed flag then you would probably find unionist controlled councils either flying no flags or trying to hoist the Union flag and so the game continues.

  • Otto

    “As a Unionist”

    I’m not a unionist dammit. I’m just saying it’s not logical to have petitions of concern for minor matters and then chuck the system out when the big question’s on the table and nationalism thinks the vote might be tight.

    I’d happily scrap the unionist designation altogether. The system was only put in to protect the religious minority. Why have petitions of concern available to the majority at all?

    And if Catholicism equals Protestantism in our society why still have petitions for nationalism? If Catholics are choosing to vote for non-nationalist designated parties then why does “nationalism” still need the protection?

  • Kevsterino

    Your question assumes facts not in evidence: “If Catholics are choosing to vote for non-nationalist designated parties then why does “nationalism” still need the protection?”

    At least not in big numbers. But if you want to know why the protection is needed, see Stormont 1922 to 1972. It got ugly.

  • Otto

    “If Catholics are choosing to vote for non-nationalist designated parties then why does “nationalism” still need the protection?”

    One minute we’re being told the census makes a UI inevitable and it’s time for a referendum, the next that we need designation to protect the minority. Make your mind up.

    I’m for weighted majority voting. With roughly even populations of Catholics and Protestants why isn’t that protection enough?

    Unless of course you’re DUP or SF and the protection you want is really for your job not your community.

  • Kevsterino

    Put plainly, weighted majority is not what people voted for. I think it is superior in that it doesn’t pigeonhole people into sects, but offers some protection from tyranny of a sectarian majority.

    But it isn’t part of the agreed new regime.

  • Morpheus

    “I’m not a unionist dammit.”

    My apologies Otto

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    FDM,
    In answer to your belief in historical inevitability, ATQ Stewart put it well when he said “The tides of history have eddies”. And that’s if you believe in tides of history in the first place.

    There is very little in politics or human history that is truly inevitable. Amazing how the most heinous deliberate acts somehow seem ‘inevitable’ to the people carrying them out.

  • FDM

    @Mainland Ulsterman

    “Amazing how the most heinous deliberate acts somehow seem ‘inevitable’ to the people carrying them out.”

    ————————–

    Which is really a disgraceful comment. Implying that I am somehow responsible for some “heinous act”.

    On what evidence would you base that comment?

    Pray tell. Don’t mind identifying me either since you know such much about me.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    FDM,
    I thought it was clear I wasn’t referring to you personally, but rather the tendency of certain narratives of the NI ‘conflict’ to present deliberate acts of terrorism as somehow unavoidable, with those carrying them out powerless agents of historical forces – which is of course utter rubbish. I’m sure you share my distaste for the weasling by the former paramilitaries on both sides over what they did, so it really wasn’t aimed at you – just a more general point.

  • Barnshee

    “That is unsurprising, given that the state was consciously carved into existence to maximize the geographic area within which the protestant/ unionist community could govern as a comfortable majority.”

    That is unsurprising, given that the state was consciously carved into existence to save as many protestants as possible from Rroman catholic republican Ireland

    Time for Unionism to find a place for the Irish National flag in Northern Ireland A galance at “12th” Fires tend to inform on the place unionism finds for the Flag of the Republic of Ireland

  • FDM

    @Barnshee

    “That is unsurprising, given that the state was consciously carved into existence to save as many protestants as possible from Rroman catholic republican Ireland.”

    I see it didn’t save them from themselves. That state really worked out tremendously well under their leadership. An economic basket-case and political quagmire.

    “Time for Unionism to find a place for the Irish National flag in Northern Ireland A galance at “12th” Fires tend to inform on the place unionism finds for the Flag of the Republic of Ireland”

    The same place they seem to want to put Polish flags as well, given the evidence of last years jungle season.

    It is just underscoring the xenophobia that is rife in protestant nationalist thinking. When Enoch needed a home sure wasn’t he right at home in the Ulster Unionist Party, after considering running for the National Front instead.

    Thankfully the decisions about flags will be democratic.