Flags: Towards a New Understanding – launch of report on public buildings & unofficial flags

qubflags report launch Paul Nolan Dominic BryanThe report on Flags: Towards a New Understanding (PDF) was published this morning by Paul Nolan and Dominic Bryan for Queen’s University’s Institute of Irish Studies.

Holding up a copy of a 1995 book on the topic of NI flags, Paul Nolan reminded the audience gathered in QUB’s Riddel Hall that the issue was not new. Nor was the issue unique to Northern Ireland: “anywhere you’ve got conflicting identities you’ll have disputes around symbols” explained Paul Nolan, citing the recent example of Charleston, South Carolina.

In his introduction, Dominic Bryan noted that “the lack of debate by some of the political parties about this is extraordinary”.

Public buildings

What then would help solve the problem of flags on district councils? Our survey provides evidence that shows the largest share of preferences would be for a package that comes in three parts.

Firstly, it would be for the Union flag to be flown on 18 designated days.

Secondly, it would be rolled out across all of Northern Ireland.

Thirdly, the package would not come top down from Westminster, nor is there any expectation that it could be negotiated bottom-up by each council: rather, it would be led by an agreement amongst the main political parties at Stormont.

The first part of this, the endorsement of the 18 designated days policy may seem like an attempt to reverse the law of political gravity in Northern Ireland. That formula was, and remains, anathema to a section of unionism when applied to Belfast. If we take that to be a fact, then we have to balance it with another fact: flying the Union flag at all in nationalist councils was, and remains, anathema to a section of nationalism. There is symmetry in the degree of hostility on both sides that – however paradoxical it might appear – makes the problem amenable to this form of conflict resolution.

Paul Nolan holding 1995 flags bookAt the report launch, Paul Nolan explained that the original notion of 18 designated days was originally a compromise. However when adopted by non-unionist parties, it became an anti-unionist position and no longer a compromise.

LucidTalk’s Bill White detailed some findings from polling. [1422 respondents to allow breakdown across the 11 new super council areas, error +/- 2.8% at 95% confidence.]

60% would extend the flags legislation introduced by Peter Mandelson in 2000 to cover council headquarters. A majority would “support, accept or agree” the flying of the Tricolour on occasions of a visit of an Irish government minister or President.

Following the evidence, the most popular (53%) of the options they polled was for the Union flag to be flown on 18 designated days on all council headquarter buildings. [Ed – if ever there was a circumstance when prioritised multi-option polling – like STV – was needed, this is it.]

Whilst “flying against political gravity”, sharing the pain equally – unionists wanting the Union flag in Belfast 365 days a year while nationalists don’t want it at all west of the Bann – would satisfy the majority of people. It was time for “firm government”.

Paul Nolan illustrated the change in political sentiment by imagining someone suggesting to a 1980’s Sinn Féin ard fheis that they should support flying of the Union flag to celebrate the birthday of minor Royals.

Support for legislation is beyond the party support for Alliance and NI21 (who are both promising to bring forward legislation) and would bring clarity.

Unofficial flags

Polling showed that 35% of people felt that the issue of unofficial flags on lamp posts was “very annoying/don’t agree with their display”. Broken down further, that option was chosen by:

  • 25% of Protestants 25%
    • 29% of ABC1 “middle class” Protestants
    • 10% of C2DE “working class” Protestants
  • 49% of Catholics/Others

The highest support for unofficial flags was found in urban working class Protestant areas.

The related problem with the flying of unofficial flags on lamp posts is more complex. At the heart of the problem lies the quandary that now confronts many western states: how much tolerance should be shown to cultural practices that many find offensive?

Our poll shows that 7 out of 10 people want to see more regulation of flags in public spaces. The existing legislation appears inadequate to deal with the problems as they manifest themselves, and so we have looked at how new legislation might be framed, and outlined the key provisions. At some point in the future that may be necessary, but it is not something we are recommending at this point.

Three questions undermine the practicality of legislative-backed regulation.

  • Who would issue the licences? Neither PSNI nor councils are keen. Setting up a new body – and it would be natural to also give them the regulation of bonfires – would sound like another Parades Commission … and there’s no enthusiasm for that.
  • Who would apply for licences? Flags are erected by individuals and organisations? During focus groups, the frequent refrain was “That’s never going to work”.
  • What penalties would be levied? Even for small fine, Paul Nolan noted 377 cases of custodial sentences for non-payment of fines under £50.

Paul Nolan waving Portadown flag protocolSuccessful local voluntary protocols – for example, the Regenerate group in Portadown – that have created processes and a timeframes for erecting and removing flags that are adhered to.

“The criminalisation of cultural expression is almost always a bad idea” said Paul Nolan.

[Voluntary protocols and local initiatives] should be encouraged, but they need to go beyond the local arrangements that have been trialled to date.

The approach needs to be standard across Northern Ireland, and must ultimately work to broad societal norms. If the police and other agencies find it difficult to manage and control flags on lamp posts, the answer is not to surrender the situation to a jumble of local arrangements.

A set of guidelines needs to be produced which can act the template for communities across Northern Ireland, and which can form the reference point for discussion between those who wish to put up flags, the local community where the flags are to be erected, representatives of neighbouring communities, the PSNI and other interested parties – this should be a totally open and transparent process. It could be that local Policing and Community Safety Partnerships are the most appropriate vehicle for delivering these local agreements.

Dominic Bryan flag report launch“It would take minutes to go from here to find tatty flags that are not being respected” said Dominic Bryan. In the years when Dominic counted flags the Institute of Irish Studies monitored flag display in Northern Ireland (2006 to 2010) “the ratio of unionist flags to nationalist flags was approximately 13 to 1 in that period”.

He insisted that not recommending legislation around the flying of unofficial flags was not simply taking the easy option as it still asked for changes to present practice.

Three people were invited to respond to the report before discussion with the fifty people in the room.

Peter Osborne flag report launchPeter Osborne (chair of Community Relations Council) began his forthright critique of the report by stating: “there isn’t sufficient respect for symbols”.

He criticised public building aspects of the report as “a Belfast-focussed answer” to councils across Northern Ireland. The report was right to link issues, flags, bonfires, graffiti as the approach to constructive progress is similar.

He suggested that the existing regulation of unofficial flags “could be used more and better”. And a legislative base is needed to drive work on the ground as the existing protocols haven’t achieved that much.

There was a “positive obligation to uphold the law”. Currently it looks like laws are not being used and enforced: trespass, criminal damage, harassment, behaviour likely to lead to breach of the peace, the clean neighbourhood and environment act …

Peter Osborne highlighted examples from the news that happened in the same week that drivers in Belfast were warned that they would be prosecuted for driving 10 seconds in a bus lane.

  • Graffiti on DRD property on the Donegall Road said “Taigs will be crucified”. A DRD spokesperson said that removal of graffiti could only be carried out with the support of local community.
  • On a retail property in North Belfast, graffiti said: “If you’re a hun don’t come in because you won’t get out”.
  • The Chobham Street bonfire in Clandeboye led to reaction that the department “doesn’t approve or support unauthorised use of its property … bonfire management is dealt with on an interagency basis … the department remains actively engaged with partner stakeholders to achieve an amicable outcome”. More than £10k of public money was spent.
  • Irish flags appeared on a new Felden shared housing development in North Belfast.

He restated that there are existing laws that apply around all of these issues. “The laws are clear” he said, before listing three consequences of the lack of enforcement.

  1. The vast silent majority ask What’s going on? Who runs this place? Who’s in charge? Can we only upload the law so long as there’s not a riot?
  2. When police call for information from communities when investigating racist attacks in the same areas, why would people come forward when the issue of graffiti was ignored weeks before?
  3. Lack of enforcement encourages further bad behaviour.

Difficulty wasn’t an excuse for not looking at legislation. Political consensus was important as was clarity in legislation and enforcement of current legislation. New legislation may not be required, but if required it’ll need political consensus.

PSNI ACC Stephen Martin at flag report launchAssistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said it wasn’t for the police to comment on the public buildings section of the report. In general he argued that solutions to problems created by flags will be found in the political and civic arena, and a criminal justice approach is not the long term answer.

He first tackled Peter Osborne’s comments before reverting to his prepared speech in response to the report. The PSNI had offered to support DRD if they wanted to reduce the height or remove the Chobham Street bonfire, but DRD chose not to intervene in that way without the support of the community.

He noted that historical incidents included in the report showed that “even in the 1950s, police actions in respect of flags were subject, quite rightly, to a great deal of public scrutiny”. The ACC added “even then, in what is cited as a seminal incident near Lurgan, it appears that the approach adopted by the police was to seek a negotiated solution”.

The PSNI was a signatory to the 2005 “flags protocol” (The Joint Protocol in Relation to Flags Flown in Public Areas) and …

… attempted to apply it consistently, however, our experience was that our partners often felt unable to act in support of it.  It was quickly established that the Protocol was not having the purchase that was hoped. didn’t have the purchase that was hoped and other partners failed to play their part.

He stressed that the context in which flags are displayed is key and articulated some of the complexity of balancing human rights, adhering to the Code of Ethics (section 4 requires that the PSNI “takes all steps, when planning and controlling police operations, to minimise the likelihood of force being used”), a society that is emerging from conflict but has not fully normalised, as well as the benefit of community support.

Would it always be right for the PSNI to take flags down when it could be foreseeable that the public or police could be injured? Where life is at risk action is taken. Where there is substantial risk of disorder, the particular police action taken mitigates that risk

Overall he welcomed the report as a “a very serious and welcome piece of work, which can provide a basis for further developments around this issue”.

Louise Little at flag report launchLouise Little (Beyond Walls) works in community development in some of the areas raised by Peter Osborne. She spoke in more detail about the lead up to the problems over flags and the bonfire in Chobham Street – local community worker Aaron McMahon added his perspective during the Q&A – Regenerate’s initiative in Portadown. The group hadn’t been told or forced to do it, they hadn’t been offered money as an incentive. Rather it was an authentic reaction to their work on the ground.

But she cautioned that the pilot protocol would only be sustainable if political leadership was forthcoming, and if there was buy in from the council and agencies.

– – –

It’s clear that while the police analysis is unique to each situation, they are sometimes more willing to act than the government departments and agencies that they would be supporting. Political masters need to show leadership in tackling individual incidents as well as changing the mood around flags and symbols from one of abuse to one of respect.

In the run up to an Assembly election, it is asking a lot for political parties to swallow hard and all agree to pass legislation to allow the Union flag to flutter over council headquarters on 18 designated days. In particular, the DUP would fear the backlash from the TUV, and Sinn Féin would have lost an easy stick with which to poke unionists in west of the Bann councils.

Yet somehow the volume has to be turned down on culture wars. Real lives are affected by intimidation. Real property is threatened when tensions are not contained. Taxes that could be spent on any number of other good causes like health or education are spent on police overtime when the PSNI find themselves on streets and in communities acting as human buffers.

This report is just in time to feed into the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition that A Fresh Start says must be up and running by March 2016 (to report back by September 2017). Perhaps the commission will be able to audit existing local voluntary arrangements around unofficial flags, assess their sustainability and judge whether is any merit in adding any more legislation to the stature books, or whether action would speak louder than written words.

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  • Karl

    Did I read that right? Pro british flags outnumber nationalist flags 13 to 1 and 75% of the protestant population dont have an issue with them? Jesus wept. Ignore the whole thing and come back in 20 years time in the hope that progressive citizenship has broken out.
    In the meantime, I will continue to drive through the places with these totems of the stone age of either side and spend my money where I dont have to see them.
    Its not culture, its territorial pissings and putting up with it is pandering to…
    Never mind. I give up.

  • And of course the answer is always ‘more government’ because what we already have works so well on such issues….

  • Some caching issues on Slugger tonight – if the embedded audio doesn’t appear above, try viewing this page which should trigger its appearance.

  • murdockp

    No flags is the only common sense answer.

  • Zig70

    The usual response that flag removal has to be with community agreement is just a front for saying it is controlled by the local paramilitary. There is a democratic mechanism for community agreement. It’s called local councils. They should be made responsible for the flags.

  • Ernekid

    I was driving round Belfast the other day and as I went around a corner on a road I saw several large flags tied to lampposts that momentarily drew my attention and took my eyes off the road. I thought that they were a bit of a road hazard as any large brightly coloured moving objects is likely to distract motorists.
    There must be some subsection in the existing road safety legislation which gives the police and local authorities the ability to remove flags that can be deemed to be hazardous.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I would say these roadside billboards are more hazardous for motorists ?

  • Reader

    25% of Protestants
    29% of ABC1 “middle class” Protestants
    10% of C2DE “working class” Protestants
    From which it seems that 78% of Protestants are “middle class”. It doesn’t seem like that on Saturday night…

  • Ernekid

    They are a hazard as well. If I was put in charge of things I’d get rid of flags and bill boards as they are both rather ugly aesthetically

  • Anglo-Irish

    On my first and only visit to Northern Ireland my wife and I drove off the Troon to Larne ferry to be met with the sight of a roundabout surrounded by flag poles each of which had two flags flying from it.

    That was our first impression of Northern Ireland.

    We then drove around the Antrim way, stopping at various places for coffee and lunch, the flag display continued on and off throughout the trip.

    We ended up in Derry where we spent an hour or so and where we decided that all things being equal we would feel a lot more comfortable going out for the evening in the ROI.

    We stayed overnight in Ramelton.

    To those of us raised in Britain – or the ROI for that matter – NI is an alien place, and the flag obsession is one of the things which highlights the difference, whilst not as strange as the marching and effigy burning bonfires the flags are a constant reminder that you are somewhere different and not in a pleasant way.

    You may be completely unconcerned by that fact and that is entirely your choice of course, on the other hand tourism money contributes to the economy in a significant manner.

  • Zig70

    I recently had some kids from Cork staying and the journey from the club to my house goes by Cloughfern. With the flags and murals they looked visibly scared. What do you say, when they ask about paintings of gunmen and what paramilitary flags stand for? I was embarrassed to call this home.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Ramelton is lovely, with a bit of investment and restoration it could be a tourist hot spot.

    I think you have a valid point about tourism; down south it’s a well oiled machine but up north (donegal notwithstanding) there’s so many obstacles and having the place bedecked in flags is one of them.
    Where some people see a sort of replication of a coronation type atmosphere many more see it as intimidating, desperate and maybe even tragic.

  • Nevin

    A-I, I frequently meet members of the diaspora and other visitors to this ‘alien place’.

    Bonnie and Jane were so charmed by County Antrim some years ago that Bonnie and her husband returned last year to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary and Jane and her husband brought three generations of their family to celebrate their anniversary in 2014.

    and there’s more ..

  • Anglo-Irish

    The point being that in order to create a healthy tourist industry you need to appeal to as wide a range of people as you can.

    The diaspora will make allowances, in particular if their family originated from the area.

    On the other hand most people with no Irish heritage when choosing a holiday will tend to go for somewhere where they have no concern as to whether they may inadvertently annoy the locals by passing what they believe to be an innocuous remark.

    There are of course exceptions to every rule, but tourism needs to cast as wide a net as possible.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Your right about Ramelton needs a bit of investment. Had a good night out and was amused by the fact that just about every second person we met was called Gallagher!

    The thing is is that we are all accustomed to our own locality and tend to ignore or take for granted what’s been staring us in the face most of our lives.
    It sometimes takes a visitor to point out the obvious to us.

    We were in NI in September and the number of flags on display was impossible to ignore.

    That type of in your face territory marking isn’t something that you’d experience in Britain or the ROI.

    In the whole of the south part of Sheffield where I live I can think of only two houses where Union flags are flown on a regular basis, most people would tend to regard those homeowners as weirdos.

    If there’s a World or European cup on the go the St Georges cross will make an appearance, usually brief given England’s success rate!

    Public buildings have set down rules and don’t fly flags as a matter of course.

    Other than that, on the occasional royal celebration, but that’s it and there’s nothing confrontational about it, like a lot of people I’m no supporter of the monarchy but have no objection to those who are,

    As I said, it’s entirely up to the residents of NI as to how they proceed but it is somewhat uncomfortable to many visitors.

  • Neil

    An potentially acceptable move (as it affects both sides of the community to a varying degree) would be to introduce legislation to outlaw the erection of flags in mixed areas. Mixed areas being defined as 20% – 30% minority population, or something along those lines.

    I personally don’t care if Loyalists festoon their own areas with flags, until such times as enough residents in the areas want to remove flags, let them fill their boots. However I do take issue at flags being erected in mixed, sometimes middle class areas. A few years back I had family living in a decidedly middle class little house in Four Winds and they got up one morning to discover flags had been erected along the road in front of their home and around the roundabout.

    If people are going to insist on pissing on territory, they could stick to doing it on their own territory instead of other people’s.

  • Nevin

    Perhaps you’re such an exception, A-I. I’ve no control and limited influence over the actions of politicians, paramilitaries and the negativity of the Irish government

  • Anglo-Irish

    As things stand the tourist industry in the ROI is in competition with their counterparts in NI.

    That’s not a satisfactory situation and it could be argued that it’s counter productive for both parts of the island however as Bord Failte is funded by the ROI taxpayers it is understandable.

    The problem will resolve itself after reunification.

  • Nevin

    A-I, are you waiting for Godot? We do have Tourism Ireland but Tourism UK & Ireland IMO would be a much superior arrangement; it also neatly fits Strand 3 in the 1998 Agreement.

  • Nevin

    “the audience gathered in QUB’s Riddel Hall”

    Perhaps some members of this audience would volunteer to fly the Union flag on designated days on Sheskburn council offices in Ballycastle and to re-locate the Finvoy bonfire. I suspect PSNI officers and council staff would willingly step aside.

  • Alan N/Ards

    My young daughter thought we had crossed the border when going to the cinema (in Enniskillen) a couple of years ago. The cinema is beside the GAA ground and every lamppost had a tricolour flying from it. It most certainly didn’t make me feel comfortable, so I can understand how loyalist flags must make nationalists uncomfortable.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Well you can imagine my feelings then, as someone who is neither one nor the other – but comes from a mixed background – an overt display of either set of flags pointedly displaying the residents affiliations didn’t exactly make me feel welcome.

  • John Collins

    Am Ghobsmacht
    I agree with you on above but I would go further. Derry after partition was the most the westerly city in the UK. It was in many ways NIs oldest city- Belfast only became a major city about the mid Nineteenth Century. It had a huge monastic and military history. It had on its doorstep The Giants Causeway, The Glens of Antrim and the beauties of Donegal, The Islands of Rathlin and Tory were also were also within reasonable reach. It cried out to be developed as a major trade and tourist hub, yet the only flights into and out of it even today, are a few ran by Ryanair. I blame the GB Government but I also lay some of the blame with ROI Administrations,. There was much to be gained by cooperation on both sides in selling the ‘Maiden City’ but the opportunity was scorned on all sides.

  • John Collins

    I am not surprised they were charmed by Co Antrim. I have seen the Glens of Antrim described in publications of long gone ‘yester’ year, as one ‘of the five places in the World one must see’. I have often been to NI and found the flags a bit overboard but bearable enough, as I am not too easily ruffled by these things. However in 2013, whether it had something to do with the Diamond Jubilee or what, the display of Loyalist flags seemed way over the top and certainly would not encourage tourists to return.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Don’t think that that would work, the British part of the UK has a different USP to push.

    It already has three countries to sell, adding a part of another country and also a separate country with different attractions would simply complicate things.

    Ireland is a unique country with its own attractions, the annual number of tourists visiting exceeds the total population by about 1.6 times.

    According to Bord Failte only one out of every five visitors has a family or heritage connection with Ireland so the appeal is strong, despite the weather!

    I agree that an All Ireland approach would be better but can’t see it working under the present arrangement.

  • babyface finlayson

    It may be, but what is your common sense approach to enforcing that?
    A lot of extra policing to protect the council workers tasked with removing them repeatedly?
    Such a zero tolerance approach might win out eventually but it would be expensive in the short term.
    How about no lamposts? Provide street lighting from drones.

  • Nevin

    Labelling can be confusing. Northern Ireland is one of the regions on the Visit Britain site.

    Many of the people I meet are moving around both islands so Tourism UK & Ireland would be of some benefit to them.

  • eireanne3

    Yes Alan – I think people from both sides can understand and feel empathy with your and your daughter’s discomfort and appreciate your words that you “can understand how loyalist flags must make nationalists uncomfortable”.
    However, the report states that “Pro british flags outnumber nationalist flags 13 to 1” .
    So every time people like you and your daughter feel discomfort, 26 nationalists/republicans feel discomfort.

  • eireanne3

    don’t flag erectors realise how much property is devalued in flag draped areas

  • Colin Lamont

    Yes down near the Olderfleet castle end of the dual carriageway in Larne does seem to have a number of flags all year round. I can tell you this is unlike most of the town, however I appreciate that this is likely the only part of Larne you see when driving past off the ferry.

  • Jollyraj

    “On my first and only visit to Northern Ireland”

    Crikey! And yet he thinks he knows so much about the place…

  • Kev Hughes

    Doesn’t it? Some of the leeriest drinkers I have ever had the great displeasure of serving when I was a student and bar man in Belfast many moons ago were incredibly “middle-class” (whatever the term actually means nowadays) and louts to boot.

    It was neither a religious thing either…

  • Neil

    I don’t think they consider much beyond “this flag has to become attached to that lamppost so I can do the rest of them and get down the bar”. Which is why getting to the point where they decide to self-regulate is never gonna happen.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    On public buildings, the recommended approach seems eminently sensible:
    “Firstly, it would be for the Union flag to be flown on 18 designated days.
    Secondly, it would be rolled out across all of Northern Ireland.
    Thirdly, the package would not come top down from Westminster, nor is there any expectation that it could be negotiated bottom-up by each council: rather, it would be led by an agreement amongst the main political parties at Stormont.”

    This contains the point I’ve been arguing at length on another thread – that Belfast City Council got it wrong by making a big symbolic move on flags “bottom up” and more specifically, without cross-community consensus. (https://disqus.com/home/discussion/sluggerotoole/82208230laughing_at_unionists_is_not_the_revenge_that_booby_sands_had_hoped8221/#comment-2515136527)

    An agreement among the parties at Stormont, rolled out across Northern Ireland, is the best way to take the heat out of this and make sure that both the people’s overall choice of UK sovereignty for Northern Ireland and cultural sensitivities at a more local level are respected throughout Northern Ireland.

    There is no getting around the basic fact of UK sovereignty, we all agreed that in 1998 and it’s still the overwhelming choice of the people. Flag-flying on public buildings shouldn’t humour those who don’t like that democratic decision, they just need to catch up with 1998. But also, the state flag should not be flown on public buildings merely as an act of partisanship or British patriotism. That’s isn’t respecting the union flag or the variant of UK democracy we have in Northern Ireland – one which is based on maintaining very high level of cultural sensitivity in the public realm. Again, it’s a reason I think Alliance was wrong to back the designated days plan on Belfast City Council at that time, as a matter of process, even though the substance of it I’d actually agree with. As Nolan and Bryan appear to agree, how it’s done matters – cross-party agreement is a sine qua non – and this can’t be the stuff of wranglings on a council by council basis.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Yes I do, for instance I know how the place came about, I know how the PUL community set about taking full advantage of their position, I know how much tragedy was caused by the inability of some sections of the community to accept democracy and treat their neighbours as equals.

    I also know from reading this forum how bigoted sectarian and delusional some people are as to where the enclave that is NI is heading.

    NI is familiar to most if not all of us in Britain and not in a good way.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Yes it was as we headed north toward the Antrim way without stopping in the immediate area.

    The problem with an overt display of allegiance to whatever ‘side’ is that for people on holiday wanting to relax and have a good time it is somewhat off putting.

    It comes across as belligerent ” This is who we are, want to make something of it? “.

    To those used to it it may not seem like that, but to anyone from Britain or the rest of Ireland it is unusual to say the least, and when coupled with the history of the place tends to give a negative unwelcoming aspect.

    As I said earlier it is entirely up to the residents as to what they want to do within the law, but it always strikes me as somewhat strange that people who insist on their ‘Britishness’ tend to be the ones acting in such an un-British way.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    everywhere’s alien though really isn’t it? Or am I being too existentialist … The UK is nothing if not a varied place of many different deep and not so deep local cultures. Tower Hamlets seems alien to people brought up in say rural Shropshire, but it’s every bit as British. I wonder, AI, if you need to widen your conception of what it is to be British? You’re in danger of applying non-pluralistic model to one of the most pluralistic nations on the planet.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    crikey indeed … you’d have thought some humility when contributing on these pages might be in order …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I actually think it’s nowhere near as bad as a decade or two ago on flags. I’m often struck by how few there are compared to when I last lived in NI in the early 90s.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Visitors from further afield especially. They’re not bothered by the national distinctions, they want to see the places.

    Oh and ‘Britain’ as a term actually usually includes Northern Ireland, as it’s a synonym for the UK. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom

    I know in Ireland (north and south) many only use it to refer to the island of Great Britain, as distinct from the island of Ireland, but that’s only one usage of the term. Northern Ireland is both part of Britain, in the sense of being part of the UK – the reality – and not part of Britain, for people who use it to refer only to the mainland (their linguistic choice, informed for some perhaps by a rejection of Britishness in Ireland – Mary McAleese’s speech on the Queen’s visit springs to mind). But yes it is perfectly correct for NI to be on a Visit Britain site.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    I watched a tv documentary featuring the Page Hall area of Sheffield last night. Muslim residents were parading a raising flags to mark The Prophet’s birthday. Is that too “un-British” in your opinion?

    Aside from the casual racism displayed by some of the White English residents featured on the show I found the display of a particular subset of the British people both interesting and refreshing.

    Muslims interviewed on the show explained their family and cultural links to, primarily, Pakistan and their desire to maintain them. Nothing of what they said made me feel that they were any less or ‘un’ British.

    Why then is a particular, even peculiar, cultural expression practised by some in NI so markedly “un-British”?

  • Starviking

    Well, that would depend on how densely packed the flags are.

  • Tochais Siorai

    The other side of the town is similar with a different set of flags. The council need to go around one day a month removing everything until the halfwits who need to mark their territory get sick of it.

  • John Collins

    I was there in May last year and travelled the A2 from Belfast round to Newry and the flags were definitely less noticeable but Aug 13, when we travelled through every county except Fermanagh, the ‘display’ was somewhat oppressive. Incidentally we arrived at the Ballyclare Folk Park late, about 16.45. We were allowed in,as in 3 of us,all adults, for the price of 1, as the facility was shortly closing. I was most impressed with the friendliness of the staff and the quality of what was on show and will definitely call there again for a more extended visit. If anything it surpassed the Ulster Folk Park outside Strabane.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You want humility? That’s like people who demand respect, pathetic.

    You like to dish it out and then act like a mardy little girl when some comes back.

  • Anglo-Irish

    What it is to be British?

    Well, having been born here, having lived in three different counties, attended four different schools and spent 33 years in a job which entailed me visiting virtually every part of the island, driving over 1,250,000 miles in the process and meeting people from every area and ethnic background on the island as part of my work, I think I have a reasonable idea of the country and it’s people.

    I also had the advantage of coming from a background which proved to me that there is always at least two sides to any situation.

    Unlike those who’s background tended to instill in them a one sided ‘us and them’ view of the world.

    How about you, how open minded are you?

  • Anglo-Irish

    Are you seriously trying to tell me that you can’t see the difference?

    Page Hall is a mainly Asian and Muslim area.

    Did they insist on marching through the city centre?

    Did they insist upon marching through predominantly white working class or middle class areas?

    Was there any ‘coat trailing’ triumphalism involved?

    Did they end up by setting fire to an illegal environment polluting bonfire with Union flags and effigies of the Archbishop of Canterbury adorning it?

    Because that is what they would have needed to do to be comparable to what takes place every year in NI.

    As for it being British, of course it isn’t British it’s a representation of Asian culture.

    A couple of Saturdays ago whilst on my way to Bramall Lane ( we all have our cross to bear ) I came across a Chinese New Year parade, fifty foot dragon,drums, fancy dress and kites.

    It was match day about 2.30 and the area was crowded, the parade was greeted by everyone I witnessed in a good natured friendly manner.

    Again not British but welcome by most people.

    The British themselves rarely indulge in parades and displays of national hubris. On the occasions they do it usually involves the armed forces or royalty or both.

    The PUL community are virtually unique in overt displays of Britishness which singles them out as not being British, just wishful thinkers aping their desired identity and falling short with the caricature they believe represents the union.

  • Anglo-Irish

    No it isn’t, not if you wish to be factually correct.

    On the other hand if you are under the impression that you are Humpty Dumpty and words mean whatever you wish them to mean.


    Fire away, but please leave out the ‘ perfectly correct ‘ nonsense.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Ok that clears things up. British-Asian culture fine, but not for you ‘British’, British-Chinese culture fine, ditto.

    I didn’t “seriously” try to tell you anything. So no need to defend against arguments I didn’t make.

    I didn’t compare, nor did I say anything about difference. I wouldn’t compare the Last Night of The Proms (a particularly “overt” display of Britishness- Union Flags included) with Up Helly Aa either, but I respect both as aspects of a wider British culture.

    One of the great aspects of British culture is its eclectic nature and diversity. Although I understand for some it doesn’t go much beyond football and Morris dancing.

    Chicken tikka masala is as British as Yorkshire Pudding. Yet I suspect for Little Britainers such developments and melding of cultures is an anathema. I’m sure though that such people are happy enough in their own (I expect white) skin.

    And that brings me back to you. In reply to another poster you talk of your background equipping you to see both sides of a situation. But when in comes to unionists in NI you seem to find them always in the wrong and without merit whatsoever.

    How very “open minded” of you.

    I’ll not further disturbed your attitude to unionism, or indeed your narrow and reductionist view of wider British culture.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You really don’t get it do you?

    If the PUL community in Northern Ireland chose to celebrate their unique history and their place in the history of Ireland and if they accepted and welcomed the Irish part as well as the centuries old connection with the neighbouring island ( not Britain as Britain only existed as a political entity from 1707 ) that would be fine.

    But they don’t do they? They choose to refer to themselves as British despite the fact that they aren’t and they choose to discriminate against their neighbours based on ethnic background and religion.

    Donald Trump with a Scots born mother and German born grandparents on his male side would nuke you if you suggested that he wasn’t an American.

    But the PUL community don’t regard themselves as Irish after 400 years.

    That is why people question unionist motives.

    Britain is a multiracial island and most of the English, Scottish and Welsh – with some exceptions – tend to be tolerant people who enjoy the variety that we have.

    Then there are the PUL community. intolerant to the people who occupied the land before them.

    You couldn’t be less British if you tried.

  • eireanne3

    yes indeed Starviking – maths were never my best subject!!
    Alan wrote “every lamp post had a tricolour flying from it” .
    How many tricolours were actually upsetting Alan and his daughter? Hard question to answer.
    I have no idea how long a GAA ground is nor how many lamposts are usually aligned along the length of it.
    Shall we hypothesize 3? One at the beginning, middle and end? So for every Alan and daughter who are discomfited, 78 nationalists/republicans are made to feel uncomfortable.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Au contraire, I get you very clearly.

    It is not for you to dictate your partisan view on how people should interpret their history. Many of the ‘PUL’ community are comfortable in acknowledging their Irishness, your sectarian stereotyping notwithstanding. The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, the Orange Order, is quintessentially an Irish phenomenon.

    For others from the Protestant community it is true that the relentless nationalist rhetoric of equating being Irish with being nationalist, Gaelic and Catholic, a narrative that has been predominant for many years, has engendered a backlash that seeks to deny the geographical realities. Perhaps an understandable, if personally I feel a misguided reaction.

    Be honest with yourself for once. You do not simply “question unionist motives”. Your attacks on them are relentless and encompass every aspect of that community. Yet I suspect that you can’t help yourself.

    Witness “Then there are the PUL community. intolerant to the people who occupied the land before them”. Where does one go with such nonsense?

    You do realise that the Plantation happened hundreds of years ago? No one alive today witnessed it. The contemporary population of Ireland is the product of many historical lines. The existence of a ‘pure’ Irish race separate today from the ‘Planter’ is a myth, yet one, taking the above statement into consideration, that you seem to subscribe to.

    “You couldn’t be less British if you tried” is laughably rich coming from a little Englander like you.

  • Anglo-Irish

    ‘ You do realise that the Plantation happened hundreds of years ago? ‘

    In the post that you are replying to did I not say ‘ But the PUL community don’t regard themselves as Irish after 400 years ‘ ?

    That was a direct reference to the Plantation, what did you think it was?

    The Grand Orange Order of Ireland is a religiously bigoted organization is it not?

    Membership is barred to any Catholic and as the majority of Irish people are Catholics that means that it discriminates against the majority of the Irish doesn’t it?

    What pray are the ‘geographical realities ‘?

    You are confused I am not interested in race, as someone who is of mixed race it would be strange if I were, wouldn’t it?

    I’m interested in actions and allegiances, if someone says they are Irish and they were born anywhere on the island or if born elsewhere they have Irish parents then that’s good enough for me.

    I have no interest in their religion or the ethnic origins of their forebears, in the same way that if someone of obvious African heritage plays for England was born there and wishes to be described as English there is no problem.

    What I do question however, is someone born in a country and descended from generations also born in that country who insists that they be described by the name of a different land.

    The reason that I object to ‘loyalists’ is not that they perform as they do as much as the fact that they do so whilst claiming to be British, they are British citizens not British.

    I’m sure that if the KKK purported to represent American values ( as opposed to showing their true feelings with the Confederate flag ) there would be serious objections from the rest of the US.

    As for me being a ‘Little Englander ‘ I have held only one passport and that is an Irish passport so you’re wrong on that one too.

  • Ciarán

    “Oh and ‘Britain’ as a term actually usually includes Northern Ireland, as it’s a synonym for the UK.”

    And this right here perfectly encapsulates your blinkered world view. I can tell you that in the business I work in (top FTSE 100 corporation) it doesn’t mean that. We either specially refer to the UK or NI specifically and NI is part of an all island business unit. I live abroad and if anyone not from the islands would say I’m going to Britain on holiday… in no sense would you interpret that this might mean a trip to Belfast.

  • Greenflag 2

    They’re not keen on visitors from the Republic or their euros obviously and to reenforce that lack of keeness they enjoy burning the Irish Tricolour whenever an opportunity presents itself . Gotta hand it to these folks -They certainly know how not to win friends nor influence people beyond their walls .

    I recall visiting Belfast on a July 11th many moons ago . I kept thinking ‘North Korea ‘ ‘Nazi Germany’ ‘Communist China ‘ “Soviet Union ‘ all states and former states where flags are /were notoriously prominently displayed everywhere and at all times so much so that they became background wallpaper in those states .

    In NI’s case I guess it’s because it’s the only tangible symbol left that reassures local residents that they are still part of the UK . Maybe somebody should mention to them that they will still be able to fly their flag in a UI even if it’s just a little more pointless than now !

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Far be it from me to disagree with someone who works for a FTSE 100 company … but what of the wikipedia entries on the subject? Suggests I’m not making it up. As would observation of real life English usage. If you want me to start picking out other examples of Britain’s use a synonym for the UK, happy to.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Perhaps you should write the new wikipedia entry, A-I … I notice you haven’t actually got an answer as to why wikipedia might reckon it’s sometimes used as a synonym for the UK. It’s not a question of opinion, it is clearly factually the case that it is sometimes used that way.

    Some high profile examples:
    These are all clearly using Britain as a simple synonym for the UK. There is no intent to refer only to England, Scotland and Wales.

    If you’re still unclear on why common usage is enough to establish the legitimacy of a meaning, you need to read Steven Pinker’s “The Language Instinct”, or any basic introduction to linguistics.

  • MainlandUlsterman


  • MainlandUlsterman


  • MainlandUlsterman

    “of course it isn’t British it’s a representation of Asian culture”
    “not British”?

    Dear oh dear. What a 1950s view of Britishness you seem to have. You realise people from Asian backgrounds born here – and many not born here – are British too? No wonder you seem to find British identity in Northern Ireland so hard to get your head around, you seem to see national and cultural identity as a very simple thing. ‘You’re in Ireland so you must be Irish’ seems about the height of it. It is a bit more complex than that, especially somewhere like the UK.

    Having researched British identity among BME groups myself for my job – and from just living in the UK for the last 46 years – all I can say is your characterisation of Asian culture in the UK as “not British” is not acceptable. I am proud to live in such an open, welcoming country with so many different ways of belonging and which changes as its people change. You don’t have to like us, but we of British identity in Northern Ireland are part of that tapestry too. If we are different, then we’re hardly alone in that. There is no single template for how to be British.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “What I do question however, is someone born in a country and descended from generations also born in that country who insists that they be described by the name of a different land.”
    Rather than explain to you again, I just refer you to what even Sinn Fein signed up to in the Good Friday Agreement. They agreed, as did the Dublin government and the SDLP, that we have the right to “be accepted” as British. This is not a debate worth having in 2016, it’s gone.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You conceal it well.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Unionists can refer to themselves in any way they wish, as can anyone else for that matter.

    And the rest of us can laugh at them for their delusions if we wish.

    Assuming that you have a passport the front cover explains the facts.

    People from Northern Ireland are not British, they are British citizens it’s very straightforward, and only the most obtuse person would attempt to argue the point.

    The Irish passport has one word in two languages on the front, ‘Ireland’, any one from NI is entitled to that passport also and yet there is no need to state ‘ Ireland and Northern Ireland’ on the cover because it represents the whole country, and anyone from any part of that country can call themselves Irish.

    If people from Northern Ireland were truly British there would be no need for the additional identifier would there?
    The passport cover would simply state ‘ Britain’ and would be a more aesthetically pleasing item in the process.

    But it can’t do that, yet , because whilst those passport holders from England, Scotland and Wales are British from Britain and can be described using one definition people from NI aren’t British and so need to be referred to as a separate and different but included group.

    You are correct in that it isn’t a debate worth having, the facts are plain for all but the terminally dim to see.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You are either deliberately missing the point in order to argue or you are less than the sharpest tool in the box.

    British culture is that which actually comes from the island of Britain, to paraphrase Dev and his comely maidens it includes cricket,football, rugby village greens, English pubs, old ladies cycling to evensong in the twilight the highland games Henly regatta the Eistddfod , choral singing etc etc etc etc.

    What the Asian, Chinese and other cultures that form a part of Britain today are celebrating is their connection with and love of the old country and the people to whom they feel a continued connection to in the lands they originated from.

    Is that welcomed and enjoyed by the British? Mainly it is but it is not British in the same way that Mardi Gras are enjoyed in America but not regarded as specifically American.

    Do they – or at least many of them – regard themselves as British?
    Yes they do and if they were born in Britain then they have every right to do so.

    Now I can appreciate how you would like to be all inclusive with regard to Britishness seeing as how you yearn so much to be something that you aren’t but facts are facts.

    You are a British citizen and you have every right to regard British values and culture as yours, good luck to you with that but don’t delude yourself that you are British with no other identifier required.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “the rest of us can laugh at them for their delusions”
    Indeed you can – and in doing so, fail to respect the Good Friday Agreement or indeed respect your fellow human beings.
    Everyone with a stake in Northern Ireland agreed they were obliged to accept the British identity of Northern Ireland people who so choose. If you fail to meet that obligation, it is your failure, not ours. We are confident in who we are and a few people who wish us ill, and who live in denial of the reality of Britishness in N Ireland, makes not an ounce of difference to who we are. So do enjoy your laugh, though I suspect it’s a mirthless one. The joke is on you.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You really are Humpty Dumpty aren’t you!

    Wikipedia? You are using wikipedia as proof? You are aware that anyone can add whatever they want to wikipedia don’t you?

    Whenever a footballer is transferred to Sheffield Wednesday some Blade who’s a bit of a Comedian goes on their Wiki page and makes up all sorts of crap about them.

    There are unthinking loose descriptions which can be confusing and lead to misunderstandings and there are concise unarguable facts which cannot be questioned, except by those who are hard of thinking or who have an agenda that is contradicted by the facts.

    You claimed that ” it is perfectly correct for NI to be on a ‘Visit Britain’ site.

    It is neither perfect nor correct no matter what you may wish.

    Answer a simple question. If someone decided to Visit Britain and went to all three countries on the island and paid a visit to every county in each of those countries including the Isle of Wight etc when they returned home would they be able to make the following claim.

    ” I have been to Britain and visited every county in Britain “?

    Yes or no? Simple question.

    Could anyone argue with them and say that they hadn’t because they didn’t go to Fermanagh?

    Yes or no? Simple question.

    NI is in the UK it is not and never has been in Britain.

    You may choose to use sloppy inaccurate phrases in your day to day life but some of us prefer to employ some accuracy.

    Your non specific username shows your general attitude toward exactitude in descriptions, say Mainland to a British person and they would assume that you are talking about the mainland of Europe.

    Say Ulster to anyone familiar with the geography of Ireland and they would be correct to assume you mean one of the four provinces of Ireland three counties of which are in the ROI and therefore you may be talking about either legislative area.

    Sloppy and non specific, requiring further explanation.

    Compare and contrast with my user name, specific and accurate, the only question to be asked being which one of my parents was Irish and which English.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Did the GFA alter geographic areas?

    Stating that someone is entitled to a British identity isn’t the same as saying that they are British.

    I was born with dual nationality as a birth right and am perfectly entitled to hold both an Irish and British passport at the same time if I wished.

    I hold an Irish passport and have done for 50 years.

    As I was born in Britain I can if I wish refer to myself as British, although in common with just about everyone else in Britain I rarely if ever use the description.

    Now here’s the thing, if I had been born in Ireland with the same parents I would still be Anglo-Irish, not Irish because of my English father and not English because of my Irish mother.

    The only difference would be that if I’d been born in Ireland I wouldn’t be able to refer to myself as British, because then I wouldn’t have been.

    And yes I shall continue laughing at your rather desperate and needy yearning to convince yourself that you are something that you quite obviously aren’t.

    Normally I would regard that as a little cruel, and by nature I’m not a cruel man, but I’m prepared to make an exception for a group of people who have by their actions been the main cause of an unnecessary tragedy and caused Britain to disgrace itself internationally in it’s inept and brutal handling of the affair.

  • Ciarán

    I don’t say that to blow any trumpet but to just to point out that theres far from universal agreement on the meaning of Britain and the meaning differs depending on the context, political, business, tourism… I could go on.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Sure, I wasn’t saying it was the only usage of ‘Britain’ but it is a very common one, clearly. As I cited to AI below, some high profile examples of it being used in a fully aware context in public communications include:

    I could find umpteen more, it is such a widespread usage – and these are clearly not mistakes either. It is just that Britain is clearly used often as synonym for the UK as one of its meanings. It’s not the only one and my point was never that it was the only one – just that ‘UK’ is one accepted and used meaning of ‘Britain’.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “Answer a simple question. If someone decided to Visit Britain and went to all three countries on the island and paid a visit to every county in each of those countries including the Isle of Wight etc when they returned home would they be able to make the following claim.
    ” I have been to Britain and visited every county in Britain “?
    Yes or no? Simple question.”
    Simple answer: no, in one sense of the word ‘Britain’, meaning UK, which the Visit Britain site itself does: http://www.visitbritain.com/en/About-Britain/ … or yes, if the visitor uses Britain as shorthand for Great Britain, the main island, another common usage of the word, which is also fine. As we’ve established, in English usage Britain has more than one meaning. ‘The UK’ is one of those meanings.

    I note you can’t explain why the BBC, Heathrow Airport, the Remain in the EU campaign and even Jeremy Corbyn, in the examples I cited, use Britain as a straight synonym for UK. Was this not supposed to be some kind of phantom of my imagination alone? Strange amount of evidence out there that it haunts the minds of others too.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You are beginning to sound both desperate and silly here.

    ” In one sense of the word “.

    There is no one sense of the word, there is only the actual sense of the word.

    Britain means the island of Britain, which contains the countries of England, Scotland and Wales plus the minor islands in the close vicinity which are included within the definition ‘British’.

    It does not include Ireland, France, Denmark or any of those countries minor islands, clear?

    Catering for the ignorance and lack of knowledge of people who know no better does not make it so.

    A couple of other simple questions, has Ireland ever, at any time in it’s history been a part of Britain?

    If not, how can anyone other than an ignoramus be stupid enough to make the mistake of merging two separate entities and referring to them by the same name?

    The fact that people have so little thought for NI that they can’t bother their arses to pay it the respect it’s due in awarding it it’s correct description is indicative of the indifference in which NI is held.

    Those people and organizations you name refer to Britain because it is Britain they are talking about, NI is not taken into consideration, it’s a bad memory that they’re trying to forget and an insignificant part of the UK that most if not all of them know is on its way out.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You might want to think what environment you’re creating on Slugger with your itchy trigger finger on personal insults. They aren’t allowed and for good reason. The post before last was actually the worse one. Seriously, you might want to think about exploring other past-times that don’t make you like this. As I’ve said on other threads, A-I, happy to talk if we stick to the arguments but I’m not a therapist – I’m not here to handle other people’s anger issues. I’ll take a bit of rudeness here and there, I’m not that thin-skinned, but life is short and conversing with someone who resorting to insults just doesn’t make the cut.

    As to the substance, if you’re not able to accept words are capable of more than one meaning, we can’t really move forward with a discussion about a semantic question like this – it is kind of impossible.

    And you still haven’t explained away the use of ‘Britain’ as a synonym for UK in the examples I cited. You dismissed wikipedia out of hand, but that still leaves you with everything else. I wasn’t putting wikipedia forward as definitive by the way – all I need to show is that some sources of authority on the meaning of Britain sometimes use it to mean UK. Even if you disagree with the wikipedia entry, which is fine (you should see Danny Morrison’s heavily censored page, it’s hilarious), the point is, it’s evidence at least some people do use that definition at least some of the time.

    I’ve answered all the points you make above earlier in the thread, so that tells me it’s time for over and out on this one.

  • Anglo-Irish

    So you object to personal insults but accuse me of having anger issues and being in need of a therapist?

    As well as having views entrenched back in the 50s.

    excellent lack of self awareness shown there. : )

    Off hand I am struggling to think of a more personal insult than insinuating that someone may have mental issues.

    However, not being the delicate flower that some appear to be I actually found it amusing.

    If any of my comments have upset you then I apologise, they were in fact not born out of anger but out of frustration at your refusal to take on board straightforward facts and insistence on obfuscating things because the facts disagree with your personal opinions.

    The word Britain is straightforward it refers to the geographical entity that is the island of Britain.

    The word British has a wider meaning – as does American, German, French etc – it can be used to reference culture, identity,tradition, way of life etc.

    No one is questioning that but using it as a synonym for the UK is totally incorrect. The UK includes Northern Ireland, Britain does not which is why there are two different descriptions in order to differentiate precisely what is being referred to.

    The fact that people on occasion use the descriptions inaccurately because of lack of knowledge, laziness or incompetence does not in any way validate there usage.

    You may well have a British identity, which seeing as how you are a British citizen you have every right to view yourself in that way.

    You are not however British you are a citizen and you need to satisfy yourself with that status.

    And whilst we are on the subject of insults. I consider the refusal of people born in Ireland themselves and descended from generations born in the country before them to accept that they are Irish as an insult in and of itself.

    When second generation Americans, Australians, Canadians etc describe themselves proudly by the country of their birth the fact that the PUL community are reluctant to do so is both insulting and indicative of a mindset that is past its sell by date.

  • barnshee

    The usual clap trap
    Democracy -the universal plebiscite has existed in NI since its inception
    No use whining because you can`t get enough votes to for a government

  • Anglo-Irish

    Anyone who regards the gerrymandering that took place in the initial formation of NI and then the further gerrymandering which happened afterwards as democracy is a congenital moron.


    In Derry 8,781 PUL voters gained more seats than 14,429 CN voters.

    You would have to be an idiot to regard that as democracy.

    However NI now has PR+STV which is the most democratic system as yet devised.

    Couple that with the demographics and it is the Catholic/nationalist population of Northern Ireland which will at some future date decide the outcome.

    How do you like that for democracy my little sectarian bigoted friend?

  • Thomas Barber


    Try applying above for a licence online if your from NI Mainland Ulsterman. You’ll soon find out that even the British government acknowledges that people born in Ireland are not from Britain.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It says “Great Britain” though, not “Britain”. The devil is in the detail … “Great Britain” too *can* be a synonym for the UK (e.g. for our athletics team; and I seem to recall, ‘It’s a Knockout’ …), but less commonly than “Britain”. And “Great Britain” though is more commonly seen as you cite it here as having a specific reference to the main island, especially when used in an intra-UK context.

    Also, I only said Britain is *sometimes* used as a synonym for UK; it is also used sometimes to mean the island of Great Britain, particularly in Ireland. So examples of the use of Britain in that context don’t contradict what I’m saying, they are in keeping with it anyway.

    The speech by Mary McAleese, lawyer and dyed-in-the-wool Irish nationalist by background, on the visit of the Queen, is a fascinating example of using the ambiguity of the term ‘Britain’, in the interests of diplomacy: http://www.thejournal.ie/in-full-the-speech-of-president-mcaleese-at-the-state-dinner-139302-May2011/ She refers to a Britain which the Queen can take as referring to her country, the UK, but which McAleese contrasts with ‘Ireland’ – another ambiguous term, island or state? Irish nationalists can imagine ‘island’ and take the speech to be wishing friendship between all-Ireland (‘Ireland’) and the island of Great Britain (‘Britain’). The Queen and UK officials can imagine she refers only to ‘Irish state’ (‘Ireland’) and the UK (‘Britain’). Each side gets what they want. Constructive ambiguity. Of course, the fact she felt the need for such a manoeuvre indicates a continuing discomfort on her part about the British population in Ireland, something which annoyed and amused me in equal measure. The people oddly absent from a speech about links between Britain and Ireland were the one million or so British population in the British part of the island of Ireland; and indeed the NI Irish population living in the UK. She avoided us to focus on more comfortable territory for her – relationships across the Irish Sea. Fair enough, they are important too. But to elide us like that in a speech about British-Irish friendship was symptomatic of the ideological issues her strain of nationalism is still saddled with.

    Back to ‘Britain’, I think what confuses a lot of people is that ‘Great Britain’ seems bigger than just ‘Britain’, so how can ‘Britain’ be bigger? But with language of course there is no necessary literal relationship between signifier and signified. Cow in English, vache in French, neither is somehow better or a more accurate linguistic representation of a cow. I live in a place where we have a road called South Parade, which is further north than North Parade. All that matters in construing the meaning of a word is how people actually use it, not the quality of the ‘logical’ connection between signifier and signified. Do read “The Language Instinct” by Steven Pinker on all this by the way, it genuinely changed the way I thought about grammar and linguistic correctness – and it’s a brilliant explanation of some basic principles of linguistics for general readers like me. Here’s a shorter article where he gives the gist of it: https://newrepublic.com/article/77732/grammar-puss-steven-pinker-language-william-safire
    Believe me, it will change the way you look at language, if you haven’t read it or aren’t a linguist – and he’s kind of right.

    I agree, the terms we all use are really confusing for the uninitiated and sometimes even for the initiated. Usage, usage, usage though with word definitions – look at that (while listening and reading widely) and you can’t go wrong.

  • Starviking

    I think the maths is a bit tortured.

    Shall we hypothesize 3? One at the beginning, middle and end? So for every Alan and daughter who are discomfited, 78 nationalists/republicans are made to feel uncomfortable.

    Using flags to mark out tribal areas in the offense. The number of flags in an area does not equal the amount of people made uncomfortable.