Does the Union flag represent the United Kingdom or is it a marker in a sectarian battlefield? When the flag of the country hangs tattered from a lamppost, so does our society. When it is wrapped around someone during a riot or used to attack the police, it is defiled. In no other country would this be allowed.
The Union flag and the flags of all states should be treated with respect by Governments, politicians and individuals within society – the Union flag and the flag of other states are not and should not be used as tribal symbols.
This year there are more flags, bigger flags and more overtly challenging flags on the streets of Northern Ireland. The flying of UVF flags with the simple expedient of adding the number 1913 does not make them historical artefacts. What happened to the loyalism which took many risks to deliver peace?
The flying of flags in such a manner is an affront to the majority of citizens, most of whom support Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. The flying of flags in such a manner is a form of intimidation, it is sectarian and yes, it does deter investment, it does destroy business and it does make a house harder to sell.
It is time for such flags to come down.
The 20th Century parties refuse to question those who put them up, let alone insist that they should be taken down, and in doing so they refuse to show the Union flag and other national flags the respect they deserve. When Paul Girvan of the DUP believes it is acceptable to burn the flag of the Republic of Ireland on a bonfire, should we be surprised that the DUP refuses to stand up and call for the Union flag to be respected?
We have lost control of our public spaces to faceless individuals with no interest in a common future. When it is deemed acceptable to burn national flags and let them be used as markers of segregation, our society and democracy are in a bad place. The anonymous and prolonged flying of flags is a challenge to the rule of law, a challenge to a common future, a challenge to our community. We dare not ignore them!
The Life and Times Survey shows that 74% of the population do not support the flying of flags from lampposts in their neighbourhood. This ‘silent majority’ needs to make its voice heard. There is a need to reclaim the streets and help bring genuine civic pride back into disaffected communities.
As Northern Ireland slides towards the hard-line the potential consequences of doing and saying nothing continues to grow. To live in a modern, tolerant and peaceful democracy is a privilege. It is not guaranteed. It is worth defending. It is worth voting for.