No mainstream party can wash its hands of flag dispute

Loyalists in flags and face masks Alliance accuses unionist councillors of blatant attempts to ramp up tensions over the flag issue

Over the summer the UK government, in the shape of the former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, was accused by unionists of acting like Pontius Pilate, washing his hands of decisions on parades.

Now, as the winter bites, those same unionists are themselves facing charges of trying to "wipe their hands of any involvement".

This time the accusers are the beleaguered Alliance party, whose offices and councillors have come under attack over their decision to vote in favour of flying a Union flag on designated days only over Belfast City Hall.

The two main unionist parties have condemned the carnage in Carrickfergus and the attack on the family home of two Alliance councillors in North Down as "legally and morally wrong".

But Alliance politicians continue to question these statements, pointing to the decision by both DUP and UUP councillors to distribute 40,000 Alliance-style yellow leaflets as a blatant attempt to ramp up tensions over the Union flag issue.

The unionists respond by arguing that Alliance and the two main nationalist parties are themselves to blame. The unionists argue that the flag has flown for decades above Belfast City Hall and the other parties should have left it alone.

According to the East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson, Alliance was dangerously naïve in not realising that its vote would "open a Pandora's box".


Both Alliance and Sinn Fein claimed the flag dispute was stoked up as part of a campaign to oust the Alliance MP Naomi Long from her East Belfast seat.

Unionists denied this, insisting their defence of the Union flag was a matter of principle.

Whatever the truth, there's no doubt that with the involvement of loyalist elements, and others using social media, the protests have taken on a life of their own, spreading well beyond central Belfast.

Now unionists at Stormont are calling for the Union flag to be flown 365 days a year over Parliament Buildings - a proposal that seems destined to divide the cross-party commission that manages the Assembly building.

The image of an MLA's constituency offices and politicians' homes coming under attack would be shocking at any time.

It's even more embarrassing on the eve of a visit by the outgoing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Like her husband Bill, Mrs Clinton has frequently pointed to Northern Ireland as an example to other trouble spots around the world, evidence there can be a peaceful negotiated way forward.

But the violence this week shows how easy it is to stoke latent tensions, and this time the Stormont politicians can't entirely blame a small unrepresentative minority.

In contrast to the activities of dissident republicans, this is a dispute in which, one way or another, the main Stormont parties are deeply embroiled.

Mark Devenport Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Violence is not the answer as is strongly counter-productive, but then again most of the Nationalist population who vote Provo (and much of the population who backed the Terror Appeasement Process) have no real moral grounding to complain.

    Also pathetic for the Treason Alliance to be blaming Unionist politicians for a reaction caused by a Republican-Alliance decision which disrespected the GFA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    If we want to live in a "shared society" as Peter himself put it, there has to be give and take. Northern Ireland in the past was run by Unionists for Unionists solely. That is no longer the case. Nationalists need to have their rights catered to as well. I can understand the unhappiness by people in the unionist community but having only one side of the community represented is in the past

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I also wonder if those in the Alliance of Treason commenting on "democracy" are also going to now be supporting a return to standard majority rule in Stormont?

    The only reason you get things your way at present is because Unionists made massive concessions to you in negotiations -- all they asked in return was respect for our sovereignty. It seems that the Belfast Agreement has now been breached.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Ah, give over Devonport. There isn't a loyal Unionist amongst you in the BBC. You're all constantly egging on the destructive Alliance of treason day in and day out. The idea that Loyalism (stability) can somehow have a "middle ground" with Republicanism (instability) is deeply flawed and only leads to creeping Republicanism and instability. ENOUGH BBC -- end the creeping Republican reporting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    i just remembered,the people out riotin wouldnt be working anyway

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    well done to all involved in the riots and to the belfast city councillers,,with unemployment risein every week,people struggling to heat their homes and make ends meet.this country riots over a flag,all involved give yourselves a pat on the back,,im sure your all proud

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Same old same old Unionist approach we believe in democracy so long as it is favourable UWC 1973 Dont get out way block public roads and disrupt society to the point where we may get our way
    1987 Anglo Irish treaty Dont get out way block public roads and disrupt society to the point where we may get our way
    Drumcree mid 1990's same old same old Bet the Queen is delighted to have such support. NOT

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Some of the comments here try to defend the indefensible. Other comments are pure sectarianism.
    There was a democratic vote, live with it!
    I am disgusted with Sammy Wilson. He is meant to represent me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    N.Ireland is aprt of the UK why shouldnt they fly the Flag 24/7? They do at my Twn Hall and Id imagine they do at yours. I think the message is Terrorism Works, Terrorists have won, they now share power. Unionists believe an rightly that they have been soldout, an lets remember a majoirty of them voted against the GFA becuse they knew and said it is wasnt a Peace Process but a Irish Unity Process

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Why does loyalism interpret all calls for equality and respect as an attack on their culture. Makes you wonder what their culture means for some of them. Need to fly their flag every day and marches need to go through nationalist areas or past Catholic churches, bullying the residents, playing sectarian songs and urinating on the building. Sounds fascist to me, as we have clearly seen this week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Stop fighting over a useless piece of fabric!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    The Alliance Councillor who was threatened via Facebook, was advised not to return home by the PSNI. What a woeful and pathetic police service we have when they are unable and unwilling to protect elected representatives from the facsist thugs in our midst.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    2. Respect each others communities by holding traditional celebrations in our own areas, be that the Twelfth or St Patrick's day. Where each side is free to enjoy themselves as they wish without causing any tension whatsoever. Until these points are addressed we will just keep going round in circles, time for change

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Yes the one upmanship is alive and well in Norn Iron! There will come a time when everyone will get tired of the same old rubbish and realise that to progress we will all need to 1. Compromise, that means having 2 flags at Stormont and official buildings

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I feel sorry for Alliance, their 1st instinct is to compromise with the bickering Neanderthals around them. They're a party who people are probably quite comfortable with, except they aren't either green or blue. There are so many people in Northern Ireland who vote for one party or another, not through any political conviction but more to keep the other lot out. When can we collectively grow up?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The behaviour of the two main Unionist parties in fomenting dissent among a section of the Loyalist population and then condemning the inevitable consequences would make a good safety code for fireworks.

    'Light touch paper and withdraw immediately'

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I disagree with the vote and believe the Union Jack should be flow 24/7 but I deplore the violence caused by fascist thugs. Once again, as with the marching issue, the DUP should shoulder much of the blame. I am ashamed to be a Unionist. I honour this flag but it's terrible to see the behaviour of some of the people who wear it. Where and when will
    this end?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    While the removal of the flag has upset me as a Unionist, I believe that violence is not the way forward. The only way issues can be resolved is by voting in the next election as this is a democracy. If people really want their flag back, vote for Unionist parties next election, by burning down Alliance offices, you give Unionists a bad name and make us look evil for wanting our flag back...

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Typical response by unionism to any change especially around flags and emblems,whilst this will play out for a period the reality is that Belfast has two main traditions that need to be reflected in the symbols of the council and this is the beginning of a recognition of that. The council must now take steps to recognise the identity of the other half the population of Belfast.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The change in flag flying policy was achieved in a democratic process. It is very disappointing that the leaders of the parties which claim to stand for democracy do not come out on the news and on the streets to strongly condemn the violence. The fact that the violence is given more legitimacy by members of the DUP calling for the flag on Stormont to be flown 365 days is doubly disappointing.


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