Unionist council removes ‘Unionist’ symbols…

That is, if you include the badge of the Hampshire Constabulary as an offensively ‘British’ symbol. This issue was flagged up on David Vance’s blog a few days ago in one of his overviews of the Dromore by election. Banbridge District Council (a council with a vast Unionist majority) has removed a number of symbols of Britishness after an equality impact assessment:

The items include a painting of an RAF vehicle checkpoint, entitled ‘Freeze all Movement’, which had been on display in the Committee Room, an oil painting of an Orange lodge, and plaques presented by the RUC Male Voice Choir, the Royal British Legion, the Ulster Defence Regiment, the Ulster Special Constabulary, the Royal Irish Rangers, the Royal Irish Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Hampshire Constabulary and the Royal Air Force Irish Guards. It is understood they have been moved to the chairman’s room, public access to which is by invitation only.

Drew Nelson, a critic and thought to be close to the TUV candidate Keith Harbinson:

“The council have acted improperly by removing a number of items from public display in the council building prior to the consultation. All of the items which have been removed would represent Britishness and it appears that there is a determined effort somewhere to wipe the face of Britishness from Banbridge Council and its property or at least to have that aspect of the council hidden behind closed doors.

“As someone who served in the UDR for 11 years in the Banbridge area and while still fresh in my mind are the memories of colleagues in the UDR and other branches of the security forces who were murdered, I find it personally demeaning that these items have been removed from public display. This has led me to the conclusion that people from my background are not as welcome in Banbridge District Council as we once were.”

Paragraph Five of the Consultation Document lays out the prospective conditions for such a removal:

Aim of proposed policy

5.1 In developing a policy on the display of flags and emblems, the Council would wish it to be seen as a way of further promoting equality of opportunity for all in its District and promoting good relations between groups regardless of their political opinion, religious belief, racial background. It should also ensure that employees and visitors are able to work and meet in an environment free of harassment, intimidation or offence. It should also show due respect to those who have presented the Council with gifts and insignia appropriate to their organisation.

5.2 The Council recognises the benefits to the area as a whole of being perceived as a welcoming location: in attracting shoppers, tourists and investment from all. It also aims to promote the District in a way which recognises and celebrates its diversity – and in particular the growing diversity within it – in a mature but open manner – which promotes respect for difference. The Council also believes that change should be brought about in an inclusive and measured manner, which acknowledges sensitivities and the opportunities for learning presented. It is widely accepted that there are good relations generally throughout the District and the Council aims to build on this, through meaningful and measured change, agreed constructively over time. It aims to deliver through this policy the goals of partnership, equality and mutual respect.

Impact / likely impact of policy

5.3 The Council believes that this policy primarily affects people of different religious belief and political opinion. There is no evidence to suggest that any of the other Section 75 categories ie, sex, marital status, disability, race, age, caring status, sexual orientation are adversely affected by the existing practice or proposed policy, but the Council is keen to hear from representatives of or individuals in any of the above groups should they feel that they are subject to any adverse impact by this policy.

5.4 Given the equality profile of the local community, patterns of public perception on emblems as outlined in Sections 2 and 3 of this report and its obligations at law, the Council believes it needs in this policy to balance what may often be differing, if not conflicting, views. It welcomes responses from as many as possible to allow it to fully gauge the impact / likely impact on the people in the District. Where change is necessary, as a result, the Council plans to embark on change sensitively, as opportunities arise, taking full account of the views of those who respond and have an interest.

Mitigating measures to better promote equality

5.5 Accordingly the Council proposes the following explicit changes to existing practice:

(1) The Council will not allow the public display of emblems which are likely to cause offence, whether intended or not, on its premises. The standards applied in case law, and guidance from the relevant statutory bodies will be used in determining which emblems fall within this category. In practice this will relate to emblems which may be associated with the conflict or the Troubles, but not symbols which are merely likely to identify an individual’s religious affiliation.

(2) The Council is conscious of the need to display any emblems, which may be contested, in a manner, location and frequency that is sensitive to differing views. It is therefore seeking views on developing a specific facility for displaying gifts presented to the Council, which may tend to distinguish association with one community rather than another. This will be developed in such a way that the facility is not on general public view at the Civic Building, so that unnecessary offence need not be caused, but which accords the gifts a respectful acknowledgment, and allows those who wish an opportunity to view them. An alternative approach is to leave the determination of the display of such materials to the Chief Executive and Chairman, for example in the Chairman’s Room.

(3) Given the sensitivities surrounding the issue of the flying of the Union Flag, and the apparent divergent opinions of the Protestant / Unionist community and the Catholic / Nationalist community outlined in research, the views of all elected members were sought. Whilst a full range of views were expressed, including opposition to the current practice of flying the Union Flag, the overriding view expressed by members was to retain the existing practice of flying the Union Flag at its Headquarter site. The Council will take a final decision following consideration of the consultation responses received from interested parties and individuals and specific legal opinion.

(4) Where, following consultation, and final decision-making, revisions to existing practice are agreed by the Council, these will be adopted in a measured way so that the good relations that already exist in the Council are maintained and respect for diversity is further built on.

5.6 Consultees are invited to comment specifically on the proposals outlined above

It throws a slightly different light on some of the discussion about Limavady lately: particularly here on Slugger. The fact that it is a course of action resultant from legislation requiring the Council to take such action, won’t prevent it from being an issue in the upcoming by election…

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  • fair_deal

    It is Keith Harbison who is the TUV candidate not Mark Harbison. He is Drew’s employee and Drew is not getting involved in the by-election.

    Bloody stupid if they acted before a consultation was complete. It may even provide the basis for a challeneg to the consultation as it looks like an ungenuine process. Although it probably now ensures lots of people will be in calling for their retention now.

  • Butterknife

    I thought the DUP was going to stop this? It seems the DUP/Sinn Fein axis is working well! 😉

  • Drew Nelson, as has been noted earlier, is a colleague of Keith Harbinson. Perhaps they might detect a pattern of PRM activity, a variation on the Athboy strategy. Has this (low level) activity been authorised by Adams and the PRM Army Council?

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    My bad…

  • PaddyReilly

    I thought the DUP was going to stop this?

    But with only 7 out of 17 councillors, how would they? What we have here seems to be a UUP compromise. The Union Flag continues to fly, but the various military bric-a-brac is moved to a special display room, and is not allowed to clutter up the whole Council Offices. Limavady will eventually embody a SDLP compromise.

  • Moe

    “It is Keith Harbison who is the TUV candidate not Mark Harbison. He is Drew’s employee and Drew is not getting involved in the by-election.”

    [Removed – if you want to make allegations like that you should send it directly into Slugger and we can take it up from there. Posting anonymously does not give the right to move in shadows and take pot shots at will. Moderator]

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Reading the list above, I was left wondering if it was council offices or a military museum we were talking about! However, I suppose most councils in the UK are also obsessed by the military service of their residents.

  • nineteensixtyseven

    Good to see that there were no acid-spraying loyalist mobs outside the council offices.

  • The Dubliner

    Nevin, what is the Athboy Strategy? I’ve never heard of it.

    “However, others display, for example, royal insignia, or photographs of royal dignitaries visiting the area; some display shamrocks and script in the Irish language. Others may relate to regiments associated with the area. There are therefore emblems on display which may be seen as being associated predominantly with either the Protestant / Unionist community or the Catholic / Nationalist community.”

    There you have it: mutual censorship. If it is a photo of a member of the royal family or if it is written in Irish, it is likely to cause offence due to a liberal interpretation of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to “have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between people of different religious belief, political opinion and racial group” and under the Fair Employment legislation to “promote a good and harmonious working environment and atmosphere.”

    This is why the GFA and its promise of a ‘shared future’ will not work. It is why this garbage will never be extended into the Republic, lest a Corkman not take too kindly to statue of Michael Collins in Clonakilty being removed so that it doesn’t cause offence of ‘the minority.’ 😉

    How much is all this assinine namby-pamby nonsense going to cost the UK taxpayer, anyway?

  • PaddyReilly

    How much is all this assinine namby-pamby nonsense going to cost the UK taxpayer, anyway?

    I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this “asinine namby-pamby nonsense” is already standard practice in the U.K., or at least in Great Britain. There, though, the emphasis is on not offending gays and coloured people etc, rather than some Irish faction.

    The feminist librarian at the London Borough of Brent threw out all the books on war, which I think is a bit much. I really think they should have been kept in the stacks.

  • Ulidian

    Next they will be removing the Plague dedicated to the Free Belgian army who used the offices as their HQ during the Second World War!

  • Athboy strategy is a term I coined, Dub. It relates to a speech made by Adams at Athboy and recorded by RTE.

    The strategy was aimed at creating intercommunal conflict through provocation; it was intended that the blame would fall on OO and/or Unionist shoulders, that they would ‘walk’ into the trap.

    It may have been partly designed to wean PRM militants off their pre-1994 activities but it’s not clear whether or not other members of the pan-Nationalist family participated wittingly.

    It appears that the strategy was put into reverse in 2006 or earlier and that Philip McGuigan, ex-North Antrim MLA, didn’t ‘get the message’. He was subsequently dumped (OOPS – offered a post in another part of the PRM organisation).

  • Jim’s Puppet

    Any truth in the rumours that members of Keith Harbinson’s family were out canvassing for Paul Stewart last Saturday in Dromore?

    I suppose members of one’s family know a person best. Hardly a vote of confidence in Mr. Harbinson’s candidature though.

  • Springbok

    “He is Drew’s employee and Drew is not getting involved in the by-election.”

    Unless of course you count organising Orange Order protests outside the council offices to coincide with the council meeting on Monday night? Wonder will Harbinson be present at that little photo op? Not involved my a*se!

  • Gréagóir O’ Frainclín

    Another gross infringement of the Unionist culture and demorcatic rights in Ireland, ahem! Next they’ll be changing the name of Northern Ireland to Northern Eire.

  • willowfield

    The Council recognises the benefits to the area as a whole of being perceived as a welcoming location: in attracting shoppers, tourists and investment from all.

    Why on earth would shoppers, tourists or investors be interested in going into the Banbridge council offices?

    The Dubliner

    There you have it: mutual censorship. If it is a photo of a member of the royal family or if it is written in Irish, it is likely to cause offence due to a liberal interpretation of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to “have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between people of different religious belief, political opinion and racial group” and under the Fair Employment legislation to “promote a good and harmonious working environment and atmosphere.”

    Fully agree, the Dubliner. I can’t see how a reasonable person would object to “photographs of royal dignitaries visiting the area” artefacts “displaying shamrocks and script in the Irish language” or articles relating “to regiments associated with the area”.

    Where is more appropriate for articles relating to a local area than the local council offices?

  • fair_deal

    “Springbok”

    Who chose to make a pre-emptive decision? The Council. Who chose the timing of the decision? The Council. If they are foolish enough to do it the middle of a by-election campaign more the fool them.

  • Tesco’s Finest

    “What we have here seems to be a UUP compromise.”

    Absolute Nonsense. As a Banbridge resident, UUP Councillors Joan Baird and Ian Burns have been very pro-active on this issue and have circulated thousands of Equality Impact Assessment Questionnaires to a wide number of people and local community groups. If anything, this issue has galvinised Unionists in the area who are taking leadership on this important issue from the Ulster Unionist Party.

  • Tesco’s Finest

    For info, the Deadline for Completed Equality Impact Assessment Questionnaires is Friday 29th February 2008.

    Spread the word, don’t let Dessie Ward get his way

  • Springbok

    Yeah dead on FD, You and Nelson might be good mates, but its clear what game is being played.

  • The Dubliner

    “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this “asinine namby-pamby nonsense” is already standard practice in the U.K., or at least in Great Britain.” – PaddyReilly

    Really? I don’t think that photos of the Royal family are removed lest they cause offence to the paddies or other minorities. This crap only exists in NI because the two tribes like to wind each other up – or, more pertinently, neurotic nationalists like to have a statutory basis to ‘dignify’ and ‘legitimise’ their incessant MOPEry.

    Nevin, very interesting and well observed.

  • Jim’s Puppet

    Can anyone confirm that Keith Harbinson was only Jim’s 3rd choice candidate?

  • PaddyReilly

    “He is Drew’s employee”

    On a point of order, my lord, I would suggest that Drew is his principal, not his employer.

  • PaddyReilly

    I don’t think that photos of the Royal family are removed lest they cause offence to the paddies or other minorities.

    Then obviously you know nothing of the working of
    local councils in England, and particularly London.

  • fair_deal

    “its clear what game is being played.”

    No games by me “Springbok”.

    A Council decides that British symbolry are to be removed and material associated with the OO and the OO is supposed to say and do nothing because there is a by-election on? Don’t think so. Plain and simple councillors messed up on the decision and its timing. Inconvenient for the DUP and UUP but an inconvenience of their own making.

  • they have been moved to the chairman’s room, public access to which is by invitation only

    We’ve been here before, and quite recently.

    In March 1933 the Northern Ireland Government paid £209 4s 0d for a painting by Pieter van der Meulen, showing William III landing at Carrickfergus.

    Later the BBC gave a racy description of the event:

    Unionist MPs cheered when they heard of its acquisition. But those cheers gave way to bewilderment when the canvas was unveiled.

    There in the foreground is a figure which looks like King Billy on his white charger.

    But floating above him on a cloud is someone who appears to be Pope Innocent XI, apparently blessing his ally as he makes his way towards the Battle of the Boyne.

    Two months later:

    In May 1933 a group of visitors from the Scottish Protestant League were touring Parliament Buildings when they came face to face with King Billy and the Pope

    An enraged Glasgow councillor, Charles Forester, threw red paint over Innocent XI.

    His companion Mary Ratcliffe slashed the canvas with a knife. Both were arrested and fined £65 when they appeared in court in Downpatrick.

    The painting was restored for a cost of £32 and 10 shillings.

    Another version of the same story is even more sinister:

    In 1934, a former RUC Inspector and “extreme right-wing bigot”, Unionist MP John Nixon (1880 – 1949) led a gang of Loyalists into Stormont where they slashed the painting with a knife and threw crimson paint over the image of the Pope.

    The “monumental”, but (by the 1930s, in James Craig’s Stormont) politically-incorrect painting went into store, until, in 1975, it went to the Belfast Public Record Office. By 1983 it was back at Stormont, where it has remained stacked in the Speaker’s Office. It had a brief mention a while back:

    Damian McCarney, who writes for Daily Ireland and the Andersonstown News recently had a private viewing.

    In his opinion, “a reproduction of it doesn’t do it justice”.

    “Whenever you first encounter the painting you are awe struck by the size of this epic tale unfolding in front of you,” he said…

    “Here’s a painting which attracted controversy and was attacked for no justifiable reason.

    “I think a lot of people can respond to that. It has echoes of the sectarian past and now we’re coming to a more tolerant period in history now is the time for it to be restored to its rightful place in the southern corridors of the Stormont assembly.”

    Last year we had href=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7011507.stm”>other calls suggesting it is time for the work to be put back into public view:

    The SDLP’s John Dallat said a prominent place in Stormont should be found.

    He said it would “intrigue visitors and certainly put another slant on our previous beleaguered history”…

    Alliance Party Assembly member Sean Neeson said that during the summer a request had been made for the painting to go on loan.

    “Clearly it is quite a significant painting,” said Mr Neeson.

    Any more recent sightings, anyone?

    As for obscene art, might I add the windows at Derry Guildhall? They sure ain’t Tiffany, but they deserve far more attention than they get.