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".

Shocking

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

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 49.

    I cannot understand this unionist need in NI to be more British than the English. This flag should have been removed decades ago. Either two flags or no flags. Northern Ireland has always been a divided culture and is it not British policy to avoid flying flags (British or not) in disputed communities?

    If the flag is returned, proof at last of the preferential treatment given to Unionism in NI

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 48.

    We arguing over flag waving now?

    How typically British.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 47.

    All government buildings, local and national, throughout the UK (or any other legitimate sovereign nation) should fly their national flag every day of the year.

    It shouldn't make a damned slight bit of difference what minorities live there. The flag is a symbol of nationhood and unity. If you are opposed to its flying, you shouldn't be living it that country.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 46.

    #42, who mentioned flying the Irish flag? Just you as far as I can tell. Are you scaremongering or just finding it hard to keep up?

  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 44.

    Reaction on the streets aside,it would be interesting to know Clintons thoughts on the whole keep the flag out of sight,out of mind, decision. Nowhere on the planet is there a nation to whom the national flag is more important than in the US-it is everywhere.Post independence is the time for flag lowering,not in a current British city,though the flag is already rarely seen in many Scottish towns

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 43.

    The councillors had a vote. That's democracy. If you don't like their policy decisions, vote them out at the next election and vote for the people who will look after your interests and concerns. That's how the system works.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 42.

    There are other sizable minorities in the UK. What if the Pakistanis or Indians demand that their flags should be flown too in certain day because they also want a "shared future"? Majority of the people in Ulster wants to stay within the UK. Change the majority in favour of the republic then you can fly the Irish tri-colour.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 41.

    The real tragedy of it all is that compulsory hatred in NI continues to exist and it makes me wonder what their children are taught. The fact that union supporters would become militant over their identity has shown that they are not any different from those who protested their position in the past. Do they want a second troubles to start? Right now, they are endangering themselves for it.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 40.

    We cannot have a shared future when anything British has to be eroded. Sinn Fein said it's about equality and 1/2 the people of Belfast were offended by the flag of the country which has been there 100 years.
    In the souvenior shops you will see items with the tr-colour, wheres the balance.Irish sign @ City Hall when is it coming down.
    Where is the equality. Democracy not good enough for Stormont?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 39.

    My last comment was removed because I said to Belfast Pleb I wasnt victimizing I was speaking fact about nationalists historic social standing in NI. We need to cut out joke politics, some hospital wards are 3rd world standard and we are arguing about a flag. Bottom line - shared future means a share of everything.

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 37.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 36.

    These are fascist thugs trying to destabilise what has been achieved. Hopefully, it represents the final twitches of a dying system of Protestant hegemony. We need to live in a shared space, in a shared community with mutual respect. Loyalist politicians who condemn it and then say ...but... may as well be endorsing it.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 35.

    I'm old enough to remember when SF entered the Belfast council chamber and the public disorder that followed. At that time the IRA/SF were following the Armalite and ballot box twin strategy. The world has changed. The DUP now accept SF in govt, because its the only way they can achieve power. Now Belfast CC is a changing city.This is not the roar of loyalism; its the dying howls of the old order.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 34.

    Maxmerit
    I entirely agree with your sentiment. The PSNI are increasingly opting out of their duty to protect life and property. I am disgusted to watch the police sit in their armoured vehicles and allow thugs to attack them. Everyone knew there would be trouble at the City Hall. Somehow its a surprise to the PSNI. Their 'all things to all people' approach to policing is failing our community

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 33.

    I would support "removing the illegal Tricolour at Unity Flats" if all flags are removed. This includes the Scottish/Israeli flags and more importantly any paramilitary flags. These organisations have been outlawed by the UK govt. you claim to support so why are these flags tolerated? I also want the vandalised kerb-stones and lampposts scrubbed of paint by those that put it there.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 32.

    RM2111 "You can't expect us to go back to the days were Nationalists were second class citizens?" You are victimizing yourself by choosing to use that kind of political rhetoric. Its all a blame game. Each one should take responsibility for his own actions.

    Why are we voting on flags when overwhelming economic and social problems prevail?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 31.

    The truly worrying aspect is the pathetic Police response to the violence and intimidation that these fascist thugs have been allowed to inflict on society once again. I no longer have any confidence in the PSNI to protect life and property in this country. I

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 30.

    Paul, I'd like to hear your thoughts on how the nationalist community is to react by seeing only a union flag that doesn't represent them at a shared community building. You seem a smart guy but I don't understand such viciousness? You can't expect us to go back to the days were Nationalists were second class citizens? Surely there can be a society were both sides can be respected equally?

 

Page 5 of 7

 

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.