May the Lord in his mercy be kind to Belfast

No doubt the flag furore is being debated all day on Radio Ulster which thankfully I haven’t heard, But I was impressed by a calming interview with Gregory Campbell on the Today programme at 7.43 a.m.(Sadly the BBC archive service has declined. We used to be able to access all items separately on the Today running order but this is no longer possible, so you’ll have to move the cursor along on the whole programme recording to find it).

However it was encouraging to hear Gregory adopting the spirit of compromise. Flying the flag at the cenotaph is an interesting suggestion.  My own is that, when the dust has settled for the majority in the Council to propose at least one additional designated day which unlike the birthday of the Countess of Wessex, bless her, has some resonance with people. This could be either the 1st July the Somme commemoration and/or St Patrick’s Day. Both command cross community respect. Unionists and Protestants are to some extent reclaiming St Patrick’s Day as one for them too. It was always part of the Church of Ireland tradition and of course St Patricks’ cross is actually part of the flag itself.

Such a move is only possible if unionists leave themselves open to a magnanimous gesture, learn how to lose gracefully as sign of maturity and don’t completely lose the bap. Flying the flag every day was always forced and excessive.  Mixing the flag issue up with the boundaries and the underlying fear that Belfast  is becoming a nationalist city is self-defeating. Realities have to be defined and faced. To solve problems you need to unpick and deconstruct them, not bunch them together in a tangle of grievance.

Unionists need to recognise that the Union Jack as the UK national flag has some way to go before it is decontaminated.    Screaming and shouting will only reinforce the nationalist view that the Union Jack was always a party flag and remains one still. In their own interests Unionists need to address that, whether they are in a local majority or not. They should note a neat Alliance point that Sinn Fein and the SDLP have for the first time voted for the raising of the Union Jack.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London