DUP-controlled Antrim Borough Council has been condemned for paying for the erection of flagpoles complete with union flags in a predominantly loyalist area of the majority-nationalist town of Randalstown. The flags were erected in the Neilsbrook area of the town and paid for by the Community Relations Unit (OFM/DFM) and the council. However, the council did not conduct any equality impact assessment prior to the move. When Lisburn Council’s DUP majority passed a similar motion last year, which included erecting a union flag in the middle of the majority nationalist Dunmurry village, they were subsequently forced to take the flags down due to their failure to conduct a similar equality impact assessment, which is nearing completion.
Antrim Council’s move, and I’m quoting from a representative I spoke with earlier today, was in response to an “approach” from “local members of the community.” In return for the Council approved flagpoles and flags, these “local members” were to remove various UVF flags and paint out sectarian graffiti and red, white and blue kerbstones in the estate.
According to the Antrim Council spokeswoman, the PSNI had been notified about the development and did not have any objections; similarly, neither did the Housing Executive, on whose property one of the flagpoles has been erected.
Ironically, the local newspaper, the Antrim Guardian, carried a front page story only yesterday in which “loyalist sources” in Randalstown are quoted as threatening “mayhem” if a proposed republican parade takes place in the predominantly nationalist town next Easter (this is the town which hosted no less than 26 loyalist parades so far this year, with three more planned for Black Saturday and one in September.) Correction: there have been/ are plans for at least 10 loyalist parades in Randalstown this year, not 26.
When asked why the Council had not decided to erect similar flagpoles complete with the Irish national flag in a predominantly nationalist part of the borough, the spokeswoman asserted that, since the proliferation of flags in such nationalist areas had not been a problem to date, then the issue didn’t arise….Of course, I pointed out that what she was arguing, in essence, was that a precondition for the official sanctioning of the flying of the Irish national flag in the Council area was to paint kerbstones, graffiti and erect flags from every lamp post in the district!
This poses two questions. Firstly, if we are to go down the road being set out by Antrim Council and the Community Relations Unit, then there will be a demand for equality of treatment, which, ironically, will mean for the first time the erection of the Irish national flag in the north of Ireland with the public endorsement- and indeed financial subsidy- of public authorities here. Is it now the official policy of the Community Relations Unit and Antrim Council that the national rights of the nationalist community are to be afforded equal legitimacy with those of unionists? If so, then that will be an unprecedented- but welcome- step.
Secondly, at a time when the government is publicly stating that it wants to encourage a Shared Future, is it not contradictory to be encouraging such marking out of territory? The fact that a nationalist area was not selected for the pilot initiative will arouse suspicions that, really, this is just another initiative aimed at appeasing the loyalist paramilitary outfits who, as this week’s murder in Bangor and the threat carried in the Antrim Guardian illustrates, have no intention of going away.