Council Wars continue as Belfast steps up to the plate

It’s clearly ‘wind up the catholics’ time at Belfast City Council as the Council’s unionist majority have voted to fly the flag of the British Armed Forces on June 27th (or ‘Armed Forces Day’.) Perhaps appropriately amidst the flag-waving and wrapping fervour precipitated by an imminent visit to the polling booth, the DUP’s European election candidate, Diane Dodds, was put forward to ‘welcome’ the development. Conveniently, it does put into context the objections to the proposal by an independent group- the Irish National Gymnastics team- to fly the Irish National flag from council-owned premises in Newry and Mourne, where a strict policy of ‘no flags nor emblems’ forbids such a development- a policy, it is worth noting, which is found across most (if not all) of the power-sharing majority nationalist councils in the north.
From a republican/ nationalist perspective, it does once again raise the dilemma of whether or not to advocate policies which either promote ‘equality’ between expressions of the two national identities in the Six Counties, or ‘neutrality’, with all that entails for the suppression of outward manifestations of political/ cultural/ national identity. The campaigns by republican councillors in Banbridge and Limavady, in particular, have exposed the unwillingness of some unionist representatives to view civic premises as ‘shared’ facilities, either reflective of both traditions or free of political symbolism.

However, the fact that proposals to promote the concept of civic premises as being centres in which expressions of our differing political and cultural outlooks are equally cherished and on display for one and all to observe and celebrate have not either been forthcoming nor accepted, is not only a disappointment, but is a fault which must be laid at the doors of the two nationalist parties in places like Newry and Mourne, where they have, seemingly, opted for the safer- but less satisfactory- option of political-cultural suppression through promoting ‘neutral’ premises, even on Councils where nationalists hold a clear and decisive majority opinion.

It is also a source of regret that neither Sinn Fein nor the SDLP could anticipate the likely development which arouse at Newry and Mourne Council during the week, when effectively local nationalist representatives were forced to oppose the policy of neutrality to which they have been advocating on that and many other local councils across the north. Supporting a more liberal policy with regard to the display of flags and emblems could only be an advance for Irish nationalists in terms of further legitimising the Irish National flag within the north whilst also sending a more positive message to unionists through respecting the right of that community to express their political, cultural and National identity within and from shared civic premises- even if that meant the British Armed Forces flag having its day from the mast.

Personally, I would be a strong advocate of the this position, and am of the belief that the symbolism brought about by Alex Maskey’s decision to retain the Union Flag- alongside the Irish National Flag- in his mayoral office during his term as Belfast Mayor was a powerful statement of the willingness of Irish nationalists/ republicans to respect expressions of the Protestant/ Unionist identity, even when representatives of the latter refuse to reciprocate (and the evidence to confirm the latter is depressingly overwhelming.)

It is interesting that Newry and Mourne Council, an overwhelmingly majority nationalist council, was the venue for the decision which failed to allow the breakthrough development of a council premises in the north of Ireland legitimising the flying of the Irish National flag from its premises, something I do not believe has occurred to date, in spite of the fact that Sinn Fein and the SDLP hold the majority on just shy of a dozen local councils across the state. It does suggest that neither party is particularly sure about how best to proceed in spite of its clear numerical advantage there and elsewhere- which brings me back to an earlier thread.

  • Bigger Picture

    Winge winge winge, Brits out Brits out. Terrible when the shinners don’t get their way, keep more of these stories coming Chris, i love hearing you guys moan

  • Ulsters my homeland

    “[i]It’s clearly ‘wind up the catholics’ time at Belfast City Council as the Council’s unionist majority have voted to fly the flag of the British Armed Forces on June 27th (or ‘Armed Forces Day’.) “[/i]

    Does this type of ‘sectarian provocation’ happen in other parts of the UK? do Unionist parties in Wales wind up the Catholics?, do Unionist parties in Scotland wind up the Catholics?

    Donnelly, why make it a sectarian issue?

  • Laughing (Tory) Unionist

    The mask never fails to slip with Donnelly: “It’s clearly ‘wind up the catholics’ time at Belfast City Council”. Real Republicans don’t, of course, equate Catholics and Nationalists as one and the same thing. But then who on earth these days thinks MI5-Sinn Fein has any connection to ‘Irish Republicanism’?

  • fair_deal

    “the Council’s unionist majority”

    Since when?

  • The Raven

    “The campaigns by republican councillors in …..Limavady…have exposed the unwillingness of some unionist representatives to view civic premises as ‘shared’ facilities [snip]”

    Errrrrrrr….didn’t it equally show the converse as well….? Or did we miss out the part where they used the Irish Language to deliberately poke a stick through the bars of the Prod workers’ cages?

    Isn’t perception a marvellous thing?

  • Reader

    At present Northern Ireland is part of the UK, as stated in the GFA. So ‘Neutrality or Equality’ is as good at it could be for republicans right now. And I believe it’s far more than they would concede in a United Ireland.
    Chris – if you can find a formal SF statement saying that they will continue to support ‘Neutrality or Equality’ across the 6 counties in a United Ireland, then I will express support for ‘Neutrality or Equality’ under the same terms now.
    Otherwise, I will continue to regard SF as a bunch of hypocritical chancers.

  • nineteensixtyseven

    “Errrrrrrr….didn’t it equally show the converse as well….? Or did we miss out the part where they used the Irish Language to deliberately poke a stick through the bars of the Prod workers’ cages? ”

    I’m no nationalist nor a fan of politicising Irish but Limavady comes from an Irish word and the council has had the Irish translation in the logo for years. In the case of the uniforms it smacks of people getting offended for the sake of it.

  • LURIG

    It’s just another example of Unionist hypocrisy Chris. They have never bought in to shared culture or equality and still see the North as their wee fiefdom to what they please. It’s not really a shock as the DUP have bought & sold Sinn Fein up at Stormont and think it’s the Bangor Pickypool days of the 50’s & 60’s again when the Taigs knew their place. The British Army march in Belfast City Centre was pure antagonism and in your faces triumphalism from Unionists. I think Denis Bradley caught the mood within Nationalism last week in the Irish News. He stated that there is deep unease within that community at what’s going on at Stormont. The concept of consent and constitutional arrangements has been read AGAIN by Unionists as “It’s our place so stuff you Fenians”. There is virtually NO acceptance within Unionism OR the Executive that Northern Nationalists have ANY right to express their Irish identity. All we seem to get is a British/Protestant/Army agenda pushed in our faces.
    Furthermore inner city Catholic areas in Belfast & Derry and parts of Lurgan & Tyrone have seen very little improvement in their daily lives. I drove along the Shore Road last week and witnessed the best new build public housing I have ever seen anywhere. Likewise residents in the Village and Donegall Road are seeing millions pumped into their areas. Unionist North Belfast also has lots of public amenities like leisure centres and playing fields for the Protestant community while the New Lodge, Ardoyne, Cliftonville areas have nothing except growing crime and drugs problems. I don’t begrudge people in these Unionist areas anything but it doesn’t seem like an even keel at the minute. It’s things like these that sow doubt which is definately growing on the coalface in Nationalist areas. Then there are sinister people who exploit this for their own agenda and that’s also a worry. The two governments have completely taken their eyes off the ball with the Catholic community and have taken them for granted for far too long. It’s time for London & Dublin to urgently address this cultural and economic imbalance.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    “[i]It’s just another example of Unionist hypocrisy Chris. They have never bought in to shared culture or equality and still see the North as their wee fiefdom to what they please”[/i]

    LURIG for dissident shit-stirrer, go LURIG.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    “It’s our place so stuff you Fenians”..Denis Bradley

    the oul Priest coming out on you denis? lol

  • The original Sam Maguire

    Never mind Denis Bradley capturing the mood of Nationalists, Lurig you’re right on the money. Bravo!

  • The Raven

    nineteensixtyseven – “Isn’t perception a marvellous thing?”

  • Niall Gormley

    Some unionists seem to be of the opinion that the outcome of the Good Friday Agreement was to confirm that Northern Ireland remains part of the UK, full stop.

    But, of course, that consent to remain in the UK was part of a bargain, which was supposed to involve concessions from all sides. Here are two of the relevant clauses in the Agreement:

    (v) affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities;

    (vi) recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.

    Given our history and division, flying British Army flags from public buildings is not following the principle of “rigorous impartiality”.

    There was no agreement on flags and symbols, and so what we are witnessing on both sides is boundary pushing. This is what is known as ‘kicking the dog’, it’s a dangerous game and flag waving has not served us well in the past.

  • New Blue

    If this is being put forward as a ‘catholics v protestants’ issue, do the thousands of catholic who wear the uniforms of the British armed forces feel that they are being ‘got at’ by the flying of this flag?

  • Reader

    Niall Gormley (quoting): affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people
    Hence my question to Chris. If the whole of clause (v) implies ‘Neutrality or Equality’ while NI is part of the UK, then it also implies ‘Neutrality or Equality’ if and when NI is part of a United Ireland. Mind you, don’t you expect SF will be looking for loopholes and exceptions at that point?
    For instance: Are Belfast City Council and Newry and Mourne Council actually part of the ‘sovereign government’?

  • Neil

    ‘Neutrality or Equality’

    I may be mistaken but is Chris not suggesting one or the other? They being very different things, one where flags and emblems of Nationalists and Unionists are on equal par, displayed and there to be seen, dependant on where in the north you are. The other being the removal of everything even remotely offensive to either community (which is just about everything).

    Personally, I would love to see more equality, and as little neutrality as possible. Either the ‘troubles’ are over or they’re not. If they are then maybe we should start trying to learn to tolerate each other a bit more. I get as worked up as anyone in NI about these things, but sometimes I think to myself it’s only a flag ffs.

  • Colonel Myers

    The armed forces have a history of supporting terrorists in Ireland way back to the Curragh mutiny.

  • Congal Claen

    Hi Chris,

    “From a republican/ nationalist perspective, it does once again raise the dilemma of whether or not to advocate policies which either promote ‘equality’ between expressions of the two national identities in the Six Counties, or ‘neutrality’, with all that entails for the suppression of outward manifestations of political/ cultural/ national identity.”

    Why only the 6 counties Chris? SF are always whingeing on about being an All Ireland party. I’d be interested in knowing details of where SF have promoted equality between expressions of the two national identities in the Twenty Six Counties…

  • Neil

    where SF have promoted equality between expressions of the two national identities in the Twenty Six Counties

    But would you not need some sizable number of Unionists to make it worthwhile offering ‘equality of expression between the two national identities’? Why ‘two national identities’?

    If we want to give disproportionate power to a minority of people, should we not also do it for the Polish, Lithuanians and Nigerians who between them make up over 100,000 people? The reason up here is different is because the population is split 55/45. In the ROI, roughly what percentage of the population would be Unionist?

    Perhaps all the Unionists would be Protestant for starters, but IMO all Protestants would not be Unionist. So it’s likely to be less than 10%. Do you suggest now that by dint of being Protestant/British/Unionist that you should have disproportionate representation not equal to your numbers, simply because NI Catholics want equal representation due to representing damn near half the population here?

    Typical Unionism, wants treatment away and beyond what their numbers deserve, because, well, you’re special aren’t you.

  • Congal Claen

    Hi Neil,

    None you can think of then?

    Parts of Donegal and the other border counties would have unionists. Parts of Dublin used to – 2 MPs. Sligo had the biggest Orange lodge in the country. Just forget about them should we?

    “Typical Unionism, wants treatment away and beyond what their numbers deserve, because, well, you’re special aren’t you.”

    As a percentage, NI nationalists make up about 1% of the UK. Way less than the percentages you were talking about. Typical Nationalism?

  • Neil

    I’m not requesting special status to Northern Irish Nationalists living in England, Scotland and Wales to have a disproportionate right to hang Tri colours off public buildings in those countries. You are however making the argument that a fraction of the population of ROI should have ‘equality’ when they are not equal in numbers.

  • Congal Claen

    Hi Neil,

    I never said you were.

    You are asking for special status for Nationalists within NI but when asked for examples of a reciprocal gesture in the Republic to Unionists you can’t give any. Which suggests to me it’s political rather than any equality issue that you, or indeed Donnelly, is interested in.