Haass Talks: Reconciling the Orange and the Green to the same past will not work

Eamon McCann, an enthusiastic scholar of canon law, has a decent eye for contractual detail… In today’s Irish Times he offers this thoughtful insight

One key aspect of the flags dispute is that all who signed up to the Belfast Agreement accepted implicitly that Northern Ireland will remain within the United Kingdom for as long as there is no majority for a united Ireland: that is to say, for as far into the future as it is possible to see.

Sinn Féin leaders insist that this isn’t so, that the agreement opens the way towards a united Ireland. A majority of their membership seems to have swallowed this whole. But it is not an analysis that would survive a reading of the text.

The logic of the agreement’s constitutional provisions is that the union flag should fly over buildings and installations representing the UK on as many days of the year as the flag-folk desire – over the Northern Ireland Office, for example. But the agreement guarantees equality between “the two communities”. So the union flag would not as of right flutter above buildings housing elements of the devolved administration: the Stormont Assembly building comes to mind, or Belfast City Hall.

“This could work” he adds, prayerfully perhaps. But he concludes that the past is a hurdle too far, at least for the current incumbents…

If the Castlederg volunteers had no legitimacy, then neither did those who gave their lives in the War of Independence. Whether this claim to noble succession is justified – it isn’t – will make no difference to the talks. For Sinn Féin to accept or split the difference with the Unionist view would be to repudiate not just the Provo campaign but the Republican tradition itself. This is not going to happen.

No solution based on reconciling the Orange and the Green will work. Fortunately, there is a swathe of Northern opinion – polls suggest it currently runs at about 30 per cent – that does not adhere to Orangeism or Greenery. Of course, this isn’t reflected in political representation.

Sort that one out and we might be in business.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty