“If you set so much store by symbols then don’t be surprised if…”

In the News Letter, Alex Kane has some sensible advice for the recently convened unionist forum.  From the News Letter article

So can we stop falling over ourselves in a headlong rush to jump into every elephant trap set for us by Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams’ continuous loop guff about the inevitability of unification? If you set so much store by symbols then don’t be surprised if Sinn Fein keeps gnawing away at the symbols. I don’t need a Union Flag at the City Hall to let me know I’m still in the United Kingdom (and I didn’t even know it used to fly there all the year round). Conversely, no amount of restricting the flying of the flag is shifting Sinn Fein one inch closer to Irish unity.

Let’s be clear about this. British symbols matter: and they matter most to Sinn Fein. They matter to Sinn Fein because they are a daily reminder that Sinn Fein and the IRA have failed to do what they say on their particular tin. Northern Ireland remains in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is going to continue to remain in the United Kingdom.

So the Unionist Forum (and I really did prefer Peter’s original title of a Council for the Union) needs to focus on that: focus on a campaign of promoting the Union, encouraging voters, encouraging new vehicles, opening channels of communication to every potential pro-Union community, deconstructing Sinn Fein propaganda and, most important of all, building the confidence of those unionists who feel they are on the losing side.

If, instead, the Forum becomes a vehicle for allowing the DUP and UUP to promote their own electoral interests – while trying to buy off some of the more unruly elements of loyalism – then it will do a great disservice to the very cause they claim to champion.

And, in the meantime, there’s a journey to be undertaken…

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  • David Crookes

    “Is there room for entirely new parties?”

    Now even Alex Kane is asking that question. He can see that buying off “the more unruly elements of loyalism” won’t solve anything.

  • BarneyT

    Whao! that’s some article…and so is the newsletter piece!

    It starts off well, indicating that traps are being set and unionism is falling right into it…but loyalist\unionist fervour, irrationality, lack of reason and arrogance will always invite some level of goading.

    The flag is all that many loyalists have. There is nothing else that defines them as loyal (certainly not their actions) or British. The British do not regard these protesters as part of the British family and the term UK is frequently interchanged with GB simply because GB is their focus.

    The British flag in Ireland does not remind SF of failure. That is just hopeful naiviety. It reminds them that their work is not yet done. He shoud be more worried about the message the flag and its carriers have sent back to Britain. Britain might just elect to take their flag away themselves, saving SF time and effort.

    The union can no longer be promoted and it is at risk in the hands of the NI unionists. Lets say it settles down. NI unionism (mainly DUP still fall into territory than makes Britons uncomfortable).

    Those in Ireland that wish to remain part of the Union have simply kicked the shit the union they claim to love. This combined with the unions longer term history in Ireland makes it unsellable. The sell-by date has expired.

    Also note that its not just SF supporters who have United Ireland aspirations. Many want to achieve this, they just differ in their means and methods

  • Ruarai

    No analysis of his argument, just a copy and paste.

  • BarneyT You’summed it up there Kane is, as usual indulging in what his former colleagues in the unionist establishment like to kid themselves that the future they’d prefer for unionism here, is happily the one that will come to pass, but they are ignoring [at least in public statements] the elephant in the room, which is that, for Britons, [ie English Welsh and Scots] we may well be, for the time being part of the administrative entity but in no sense part of their nation. The [loyal to themselves] subjects are at present going the right way to self deporting [Hello Mitt] us from even the administrative layer of the UK.

  • grandimarkey


    “No analysis of his argument, just a copy and paste.”

    Funny you mention that, I seem to remember Pete Baker having a go at our lovely Welsh contributor, Dewi, about simply copy & pasting an argument with no analysis. Plenty of “FFS Dewi” statements being bandied about…

  • carl marks

    . So can we stop falling over ourselves in a headlong rush to jump into every elephant trap set for us by Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams’ continuous loop guff about the inevitability of unification?
    I love this old unionist chestnut “every trap” am i the only one who thinks this is a classic piece of mopery.
    Unionism behaves like a spoilt violent child and it’s not its fault, those evil republicans have set a cunning trap, a democratic vote which came as no surprise (40000 leaflets) is a trap! How many times after unionist violence have we been told it was a trap you would think that the penny would drop? But no it seems that preplaned and organised street violence from unionists is not their fault but you guessed it “ the big boys made me do it” how often after another outburst of rioting do we get told it was their fault they tricked us.
    Until unionism starts to grow up and take responsibility for it actions and stop sounding like a guilty schoolboy trying to pass the blame then we will see more of the nonsense that has infested our streets over the last month or so.

  • Cric

    Is there a consensus that Sinn Fein/SDLP really did set a trap in de-Britishing the front of Belfast City Hall – as if it was all a ploy to upset other humans, rather than a move to make the public face of the city more neutral?

    Not being a Sinn Fein (or SDLP) supporter, but originally coming from a Nationalist background I would like our shared spaces to be less dominated by the majority culture, and I would have voted for the removal of the flag (actually I would have preferred both flags, that would have put an end to the issue for a generation).

    No offence Unionism, I’m not trying to deliberately upset you and I certainly wouldn’t like to goad people on to the streets – but on balance it seems like the fairest thing to do on a building which represents all.

  • redstar2011

    I still await ANYONE to tell me what exactly they mean when loyalists say they are being discriminated against- in what exactly?

    I also don’t get this notion that they feel they aren’t represented- they have a vote the same as everyone else. If the UVF don’t get enough votes to be elected how is that being disenfranchised?

  • Old Mortality

    ‘no amount of restricting the flying of the flag is shifting Sinn Fein one inch closer to Irish unity’

    I think SF realise that goal is a long, long way ahead which means they must do as much as they can to nurture the delusion that ‘the North’ isn’t really in the UK. Remember all the risible nonsense that having the title of UK City of Culture didn’t imply that dear old Derry was actually in the UK. The more plausible the delusion, the less fretting about a united Ireland. Have cake. Will eat.

  • Neil

    If the UVF don’t get enough votes to be elected how is that being disenfranchised?

    And even if they did Unionists would undoubtedly demand they decommissioned before they would be allowed to enter Stormont. Wouldn’t they? Ahem.

  • Zig70

    I find the forums focus on poverty, employment and education in Unionist areas to the exclusion of nationalists fairly sick.

  • abucs

    I don’t think the Nationalists set a trap. They are just acting out their ideas of ‘parity of esteem’ and also playing to their electorate. Nationalists and unionists disagreeing about ‘shows of state symbolism’ is an ongoing political disagreement.

  • Cric

    Maybe Unionists set a trap – their visceral patriotism demanded that their flag flies all the time – and if every anyone else was to demand neutrality on public buildings they could throw accusations of ‘eroding our Britishness’ at them?

  • Barney T,

    You echo my argument from other threads. Whenever I mention NI to ordinary Brits from the mainland visiting America I get the same reaction that I once got from a Dutchman when I was discussing the Afrikaners–the crazy relative in the attic look. But this isn’t restricted to unionists and British, what about Northern nationalists and the Irish in the Republic? When a former Alliance party leader ran for Fine Gael in the Republic he found that many people resented a foreigner interfering in their politics. Unionists in NI display the same sort of British culture formerly found among Rhodesians and English-speaking South Africans in Natal–an imperialism in a post imperial age. And Northern nationalists have a culture that is similar to that in the Republic several decades ago, and mostly found among FF supporters.

  • Devil Eire

    Clearly one man’s propaganda is another man’s sensible advice.


    What exactly is the point in quoting, uncritically, Alex Salmond’s view of the SNP’s performance in these local elections?

    Beyond pushing his propaganda, that is…”

  • There’s a very good article – in Irish – in today’s Irish Times about a seminar held last week – a joint venture I think between the Cultúrlann and the Shankill Women – about the Irish language and Protestantism. http://www.gaelport.com/nuacht?NewsItemID=9182
    This to my mind is a good indication of what is possible if unionism opens its eyes.
    In contrast to that, Gerry Adams has an op-ed piece proclaiming the ‘demographic’ imperative for a Border poll. To my mind, the antics of SF in the flags dispute and other controversies is adding an unwanted toxicity to the United Ireland cause. If unionism is endangering its relevancy, so too is so called republicanism.

  • Peter Robinson is clearly adjusting to the stark backfiring of his original plan to effect a result in the BCC chamber that he knew he hadn’t the votes inside, ie by whipping up the mob. He know says the outcome of the vote wouldn’t be changed by throwing petrol bombs at the police. This is not how he saw it in early december when he thought alliance would be most damaged by his leaflet stunt. He knows the natural DUP voters weren’t impressed by his ‘leadership’

  • Fitzy2012

    I can’t understand how unionist/loyalists can’t see the removal of the flag as promoting equality either, as Gerry Adams even said (a man i wouldnt agree with most of the time to be fair) “we wanted both flags or no flags,” how can unionists see this as appeasement of republicans, when they welcomed and supported a democratic compromise to fly it on restricted days?

  • Bloodymindedness combined with bigotry is the explanation as in ‘We’re damned if we’re going to give themmuns the satisfaction of even bending a little towards them. They use the phrase ‘republican appeasement when they really mean appeasement to catholics but decide it’s not politic to come straight out and say it. That’s the attitude behind the refusal to countenance any move from their rigid positions.

  • Banjaxed

    There are so many references to traps – elephant ones, cunning ones, etc – I won’t be surprised to see the next statement from republican HQ signed, not by P O’Neill but by P O’Baldrick.

    Have a look at Liam Clarke’s article on today’s Newshound for another view on unionist leadership, or the lack thereof.


    Sorry, can’t do the tiny url for the moment.

  • BarneyT

    There are some that have not yet come to terms with the notion of a shared community. I have to say that unionists mostly fall into this category.

    That is not to suggest of course that ALL members of the nationalist and republican communities are prepared to share with unionists. Some still take the view that Ireland is for the Irish. We know that has no place in a shared future too.

    However in light of the agreements, shared society, more equal representation and new found democracy etc… there has to be movement and compromise.

    In this context it is not beyond expectation that nationalists and republicans would table a motion to have the union flag removed or indeed both flags installed, and this does not have to equate to game playing, provocation or trap setting.

    Of course there may have been mischief then again there may not have been, but the willingness to remove, reduce or co-fly both flags of identify was always going to be met with unionist resistance and shouts of identify corrosion and no surrender.

    No surrender to what? Compromise?

    If the flag is restored to pre Dec 3 status, cries of victory will be heard and triumphalism will reign. It will of course be proven to be a flag issue after all.

    Some are saying that it’s not a flag issue and this is only thin end of the wedge or the straw that gave the camel its hump. That argument will remain whilst the flag flies periodically.

    So, on the assumption that restoring the flag appeases, how will unionism react to a fully restored union jack (to fly permanently) alongside the tricolour, which will fly alongside it? I suspect with further anger demonstrating that dual emblems, share society, are not on the unionist agenda.

    Many will state that NI is part of the UK and that alone qualifies the union flag and equally disqualifies Irish Nationalist symbols and their right to fly…as it is the UK. This tired road is used by those that do not accept or fully understand that NI is a special case and we have for a long time been in resolution mode. As part of a resolution, tolerance for each other’s communities, rights and reasonable traditions has to be enshrined, combined with appropriate controls and penalties to prevent posturing, provocation or triumphalism from either side. I’m not sure how that can be measured if the council motion of the last two centuries is regarded as provocation.

    How can there be such compromise with unionism flying their flag high, as we must all concur, as a symbol of NI Britishness and unionist domination. If there is true representation, and it is agreed that the symbols are important to each community, then they must both be tolerated and as I’ve said before, fly side by side. A removal of all flags is not going to forge tolerance.

  • Barney T,

    I agree that NI is indeed a special case and that the Union Flag is a sectarian symbol as well as a national symbol. But as NI is still part of the UK and not a condominium ruled jointly by both London and Dublin, I don’t see any room for both the Union Flag and the Irish tricolor to fly over government buildings. There is another approach that is possible, have a committee design a non-sectarian provincial flag that either contains no sectarian/ethnic symbols or contains symbols that pertain to each community, such as the shamrock or Irish harp and the Red Hand of Ulster. This flag could fly over government buildings 365 days a year if that is what is desired, along with the Union Flag on designated days.

    In South Africa there were flag problems throughout the 20th century. When the Union of South Africa was created in 1910 it used the Union Flag. In 1927 it switched to a national flag: an orange, white, and blue tricolor that contained tiny replicas of the Union Flag and the flags of the two Boer republics in the middle white stripe. This satisfied both English-speakers and Afrikaners. When majority rule was instituted in 1994 a new flag was designed that eschewed symbols pertaining to the Union, Afrikaner nationalists and the African National Congress in order to make it acceptable to all. I think this would be a good model for NI.

  • Gopher

    @ tmitch57

    I think rather than a committee have a competition for all the schools colleges and universities the winner gets a big prize like some serous funding and good trips and the like. The entrants get to explain the concept behind it.. Hate things designed by committee. For me we have so much cool looking symbolism (always used in the wrong way off course) it would be a shame not to use it. We also have so many old buildings I would probably go for something with a traditional feel.