Time to show flags proper respect

Respect for Flags campaignDoes 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.

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  • Well said Basil,
    Have you any proposals or ideas as to how to achieve a reduction in the lampost flags?

  • Charles_Gould

    Very much agree with you Basil.

    One thing that always strikes me about the flags on lamp posts is they are essentially flown half way up – making them look like a flag at “half mast” – a symbol of mourning or despair. When I see these flags my thought is “who has died”

    Anyhow Basil, good luck with your new political venture. I thought your video was a very good way of transmitting the blog.

    A “vlog” I think, a 1st on Slugger? Very 21st century!

  • paulG

    Noble sentiments Basil,
    but what do you and NI21 intend to do about it?

    You won’t tempt voters out merely because they share your opinion, – they’ll want to have seen a demonstration of some action on the matter first.

  • Well said Mr McCrea..
    Im glad that you talk about flags (plural) rather than flag (singular). As an Irish citizen, Id consider it a degree of normalisation to see my national flag on semi-official buildings such as hotels…where the guests are more likely to be irish citizens than any other nationality.

    In general Im a “both flags or no flags” man.
    Id join with previous contributors who wish your venture well.
    Looking forward to your Conference. can I sit with the Media people?

    One slight problem with your contribution. It was going sooooo well until you mentioned the Life and Times Survey.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s a position ahead of some talks you may have heard of… PS, that’s a nicely creative interpretation of Basil’s post FJH… 😉

  • BluesJazz

    Can’t disagree with any of that. It would be nice to hear David Cameron repeat it.

  • BluesJazz

    “It’s a position ahead of some talks you may have heard of…”

    If you mean the Haas talks, I’m guessing over 74% of the population couldn’t give a toss about them or the puerile matters they cover.

  • sherdy

    I’m afraid those talks will turn out to be a Haass-been.

  • Red Lion

    Excellent video and sentiments

    Very glad to have the leader of NI21 contributing on slugger and I very much hope ‘Basil on slugger’ will be a regular thing.

    Am so glad and hopeful that the silent moderates in Northern Ireland, who up until now have had little or no representation, are beginning to find their voice, get organised and to be assertive.

  • Added some thoughts in another post on the ideas contained in the NI21 position paper that accompanies Basil’s statement – a call for a ‘flag commitment’ to be added to the ministerial pledge, getting council to regulate festival-related flags, etc.

  • Mc Slaggart

    “NI21 believes the Union Flag should be flown on main council buildings on designated days.”

    Basil McCrea your party is suggesting that Omagh council fly the Union flag on St Patricks day?


  • sbelfastunionist

    Was it not Paul Girvan who made the comments about the flag on the bonfire and not Paul Givan, chair of the Justice committee? To be fair to Basil, I think some journos at the time also got them confused.

  • @Basil,

    Welcome to Slugger.
    In America the only flags that are flown like the Union flag and the tricolor are in the North as tribal markers are foreign flags like the Mexican flag and the battle flag of the defunct Confederate States of America. Southerners claim that the CSA flag is an emblem of regional pride, but in the 1950s it was used as a device to rally support for segregation and against court-ordered attempts to end discrimination. Much as the Union flag was used in NI in loyalist ghettos during the 1970s. Finally, black-organized economic boycotts of states that had the Confederate flag as part of their state flag led to its removal in the 1990s. The flag dispute in NI is complicated by the fact that the Union flag is both the flag of the UK as a whole and a unionist/loyalist tribal symbol.

  • Charles Gould[6.30]
    ‘a symbol of mourning or despair’
    I think you hit the nail on head there. All the flags are a cry for help. they’ve cut out the middleman and gone straight from Triumphalism to self pity in one fell stroke. Laughable.

  • Was it not Paul Girvan who made the comments about the flag on the bonfire and not Paul Givan, chair of the Justice committee? To be fair to Basil, I think some journos at the time also got them confused.

    sbelfastunionist – I think you have a point! The post above has been updated …

  • I was in Texas in February.
    Some Mexican flags but not a lot. No Confederate flags at all…except at the Alamo in the context of flags that had flown over Texas.
    In fairness I was in the”liberal part” of Texas…the most integrated part.
    Yet it is ironic that the used car lot which I passed by often could …without any hassle….fly the Mexican flag.
    It would be impossible to fly the Irish flag in a car showroom in the most integrated parts of Norn Iron.

    What does that say for Conflict Resolution?
    The Americans crushed the Mexicans and Confedacy in war.
    THe defeated flags are tolerated.
    The IUnionists have not crushed the nationalists. Or indeed vice versa.
    The Irish flag is not tolerated in Norn Iron.
    I frankly dont think Conflict Resolution can ever be a compromise or a negotiation.
    Sad but True.

  • I await the year when folk feel comfortable flying the Irish Tricolour at the NI Proms in the Park in the way folk can in the Royal Albert Hall.

  • Were any British Flags there Alan?
    I think the problem with Flags is that one is just a little bit more equal on the other.
    And of course unionists will say “rightly so”.

  • iluvni

    Number one item on the Haas agenda should be the agreement of a flag to represent Northern Ireland which all sides can sign up to, followed closely by the end of the denial of the existence of NI by parties who are in its government.
    Let that new flag fly over public buildings.

    If there’s no agreement on that, call the talks off, the rest of the items on the agenda will go nowhere.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Great stuff Basil

    A lot of these flags are erected without any input from the locals yet to criticise them in any aspect e.g. the UVF 1913 flags results in yelps of an assault of “are culture”

  • Jack2

    Well said Basil. Not too many politicians can draw support from both sides on Slugger but you seem to have positive comments from all.

    Good luck!

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    “The Irish flag is not tolerated in Norn Iron.”

    I’ll “see” your tricolour and “raise” you a yet-to-be-invented-NI flag:


    Alas, I suspect people from either side would go ballistic…

  • Mc Slaggart

    “iluvni (profile) 15 September 2013 at 10:26 pm
    Number one item on the Haas agenda should be the agreement of a flag to represent Northern Ireland which all sides can sign up to”


  • Am Ghobsmacht.
    Hell will in fact freeze over before I ever recognise a Norn Iron flag.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Point taken.

  • derrydave

    Would just like to add my approval and congratulations to Basil on his parties vblog on this matter. This is a great opening salvo from NI21, picking as it does an issue which is important and which garners support from the majority in both communities. Looking forward to more to come from NI21 – will be very interested to find if my initial favorable disposition towards NI21 can survive the rough and tumble of NI politics, or will they instead be dragged down into the mire by the sectarian nature of politics here. Good luck Basil – genuinely wish you all the best – if you succeed then it will be good for politics in the north and will be a sign that maybe things are moving on. If not then it will be really rather depressing – I for one would have no hesitation in giving your party a number two if I were given the option.

  • Cric

    In my opinion, the smartest thing a Unionist could do right now is push for a two flag solution. As someone who was brought up in the nationalist tribe I would find it very easy to vote for a united Ireland, since I’ve never felt Northern Ireland recognised or represented my nationality. I imagine a Northern Ireland which puts the Irish nationality on an equal footing with the British nationality would lead to much more comfort with the status quo from a lot of young nationalists.

    Of course a two flag solution would be seen by some unionists (the type that went mental after the Belfast union flag was taken down) as a loss and would never be accepted… ironically strengthening the hands of victory-seeking Irish Republicanism.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Basil won’t be at the Haass talks so the timing here is deliberate; he’s trying to direct attention away at an appropriate time and take the credit for any progress on putting this matter on the agenda. Interesting move of course.


    Hell might freeze over before FJH (who is of the generation that actually started and sustained the troubles – not that it shows) recognizes an NI flag; but polls show that the idea of an NI identity is on the rise and there are opportunities for common ground. I’d take the logo of the Northern Ireland Assembly as a starting point. Unionists and nationalists will both hate it of course.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    The problem with the 2 flag scenario (aside from the mental type over reaction that you rightly highlighted) is that it becomes very clear cut:

    Flag A or flag B. Choose.

    It doesn’t reflect on the middle ground which has a varying degrees of support or disdain for either flag.

    With a third flag (a non offensive flag, NOT the Ulster Flag) then everyone is catered for: those who want the tricolour, those who want the UK flag and those who want a
    Norn Iron flag and have varying feelings about the other two flags.

    Republicans get recognition for their flag, the Union Flag is flying 365 and NI finally gets a flag of its own and therefore the middle-ground people aren’t ‘forced’ into a ‘oor fleg vs themuns’ fleg’ which is exactly how I see the 2 flag solution.

    With 3 flags I can give respect to them all, with 2 flags I feel kinda drawn into (only slightly mind!) the flegtard “chippin awey at oor Britishness!” frame of mind.

    And if I feel like that and I consider myself a moderate (Lundy?) then I imagine there’ll be 10’s of thousands of others who would think similarly.

    Just my 2 cents like…

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    I’d agree that the assembly logo is a good starting point.

  • Charles_Gould

    US style integration and melting pot one flag solution

    Canadian style multicultualism two flag solution

    Are we one people or two?

  • “Are we one people or two?”


    I think its pretty clear: you are two (orphaned) peoples.

    “The Americans crushed the Mexicans and Confedacy in war.
    THe defeated flags are tolerated.
    The IUnionists have not crushed the nationalists. Or indeed vice versa.”


    The Americans soundly defeated the Mexicans and crushed the Confederacy. But like the IRA, the Southerners did not feel morally defeated only militarily defeated. The
    Republicans have attempted to rewrite the history of The Troubles in order to convince nationalists that they weren’t defeated.

    What I had in mind with the example of the Mexican flag is its use in a demonstration by illegal immigrants in Los Angeles a few years ago. If you visited the German-speaking area of Texas (the Deutschtacht so to speak), you probably wouldn’t see Confederate flags; the German immigrants were opposed to Southern secession.

  • Charles,

    We do not have a two flag acceptance in Canada.

  • Yes indeed Southerners were soundly defeated militarily and some hold to the “good ole rebel” fantasy but Appomattox was an unconditional surrender.
    Thats what the history books say. The North won, the South lost. Conflict Resolution.
    I dont really have time to distinguish between racists waving the confederate flag and those who talk about Heritage Not Hate…but there are certainly parallels here where people tell us they are honouring the past and not just annual sectarianism.
    The point is that theres ambiguity about the Confederate Flag itself but no ambiguity about Southern military defeat.

    While Republicans will indeed argue that they were not morally defeated, they are backed up by the official version that they were not military defeated. We have a narrative that we all won and all lost with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
    In those circumstances there is ambiguity about how the Conflict was resolved (it wasnt! ) therefore there is no ambiguity about Irish Flag…it is not tolerated.
    I was indeed in the part of Texas where there was a lot of Union sentiment 1861-1865…and some neighbouring counties actually under Confederate martial law.

  • DC


    Set up ‘surgeries’ in those particular communities and take your message to those areas directly and organise for change instead of pitching your silly little internet messages to readers whose background is not in or from those areas you are looking to impact on.

  • DC

    ‘What happened to the loyalism which took many risks to deliver peace?’

    Well, on you go yourself, go into those areas, why wait for someone else?

  • Alan N/Ards

    Thank goodness for NI21. Finaly a unionist party talking some sense.


    I’m afraid that there is little tolerance for the other sides flag all over the island of Ireland. How many union flags do you see flying outside hotels in the south. Plenty of hotels in the south have international flags flying but very few union flags. Why?

    Thee was an article in the Newsletter last week about an irish speaking orangeman from Donegal. He mentioned that the order in the south fly the unon flag inside their halls. Why inside? Is it becuse of intolerace of their flag by nationalist’s/republican’s?

  • Im not quite sure that there is some kinda similarity between a hotel in Republic of Ireland and an orange hall in the Republic of Ireland.
    But my point and yours seems to be that we have seen British flags flying at hotels in the Republic but I cant ever recall seeing the national flag of Ireland on any hotel in Norn Iron….does the Holiday Inn, Ramada, Culloden, Europa….even have one.?

  • Red Lion

    Am Ghobsmacht,

    How’s about the red St.Patrick’s cross/saltire on a green background?

    Et Voila, an attractive Northern Ireland flag for those that want it

  • Alan N/Ards

    I have no idea why hotels here do not fly the flag of the south. I also have no idea why the union flag is rarely flown alongside other international flags in the south. Maybe someone has the answer.

    The irish speaking orangeman from Donegal who has no problems calling himself irish, said that their hall had the words”Brits Out” daubed on it. He was also asked by Americans why they didn’t fly the Tricolour on their hall. His reply was that when the oo and protestantism is given the respect in the south it deserves, they will then fly the Tricolour above their halls.

  • weidm7

    Alan N/Ards, I presume you mean respect from the people, not the government? Since the leader of the OO spoke in the Senate and the government facilitated and tried to protect a Love Ulster parade down Dublin’s main thoroughfare.

  • weidm7

    The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs also gave the OO €250,000. Sounds preety respectful to me.

    It seems strange that an organisation founded on loyalty to the British monarchy would fly the flag of a different nation. Especially one with a history of being very disloyal to that same monarchy.

  • Some people have no concept of shared space and also how they often use flags and emblems in a sectarian way.

    Even though most Nationalists wouldn’t have much praise for say, the Parachute Regiment, I reckon even the paras wouldn’t want their flag being paraded by a sectarian loon or loomed over interfaces in Belfast.

    The same goes for the Union Flag of Britain and N.I. Most people, from whatever religious background in the UK, would abhor their flag being used in such garish ways.