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

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 129.

    The GFA only papered over the cracks that go to the root of NI. The Union flag is the symbol of the tribe who fought tooth and nail to keep NI from being a democracy - that's why there was a Civil Rights movement. Any interference in the "tradition" of this tribe is an unwelcome reminder that the taigs now have rights.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 128.

    @106 Annie & @119 coleraine 89 show that people in NI are still as bitter & twisted as it ever was. Sadly the mentality regarding nationality & "Britishness" will never go away.
    Politicians hounded out of their homes, ineffective policing & deplorable party politics from the main Unionists parties shows NI in a clearer light as opposed to sorting out its mounting domestic issues.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 127.

    Its funny how Irish people get on great with British people in the mainland and British people get on great with Irish people in the south. Its only when we get home that the problem arises. 2 great nations, whats the problem with being part of both?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 126.

    I think Coleraine 89 would suggest you were born in 1989, or that you IQ is somewhere between 8 & 9?

    Either way, there is little chance that you know anything of the dark days. The darkest days you would have experienced (quite recently as well) was indeed your mummy's womb.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 125.

    re: coleraine89
    I take it your name has no link to the University in Coleraine. Your post is a perfect example of human devolution.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 124.

    RE: 119.coleraine89

    And you consider yourself to be British?!?!

    I suspect the majority in mainland UK would probably spout the same vitriol about you as spouted in your post.

    Actually they wouldn't as they probably wouldn't care enough about your "political" leanings.

    Neanderthal outdated attitudes like yours is stopping NI from being a prosperous & safe place to live.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 123.

    NI is a democracy, a concept that British troops supposedly fight for all over the world. If a democratic decision takes place in the capital city of Northern Ireland surely all people living in that democracy should accept it. If the people who elected the politicians dont accept this then vote for someone else who supports their views at the next election.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 122.

    Isn't the clue in the name? Union flag; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Where is the confusion?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 121.

    I live in the East Belfast constituency and am totally disgusted at the death threats issued against our MP Naomi Long. The PSNI's response to this,is to advise Naomi to move out of her home and to stay away from her constituency office. What a pathetic police service we have, totally shameful,gutless.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 120.

    re: coleraine89
    A brilliant and insightful contribution to the debate, and kind of proves the point that we should be focusing on important issues, in your case that would be education.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 119.

    have people forgot about the bigots that cause havoc day to day in northern ireland.. IRA SCUM.. MURDERS BOMBS u name it.. us unionist people are unhappy about our countrys flag gettin took dwn.. all they have to do is reinstate the flag this will all be over if nt we will get dragged back into the dark days.. NO SURRENDER

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 118.

    if a tri-colour was up along side the Union Jack, would unionists be happy if both where flown all year round? that way the union jack would be up full time and nationalists would feel equal...

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 117.

    As a workingclass protestant i find it disgraceful belfast council voting to take down the flag of the my country have they nothing better to do? People should remember what the peaceful protestant people of N.Ireland have already accepted to try and achieve peace i.e convicted terrorists helping to govern this country if they are not careful they will take us back to the 70's and 80's

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 116.

    If you accept that, for loyalists, the flying of the flag is an important symbol for them, then surely nationalist demands for it to be pulled down from the city hall were hypocritical in the light of their insistence on naming playgrounds and Gaelic athletic clubs after IRA hunger strikers and gunmen in areas that they "control"?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 115.

    Thought we reclaimed the Union flag in after the olympics from extremists. Using a flag to annoy your neighbours is bad manners. Stop blaming it on your 'britishness'. You might not want to call yourself 'Irish' but you certainly are not 'British'. The people of England, Scotland and Wales do not want to be associated with bigots.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 114.

    How on earth does flying a flag bring in jobs? The council decision hasn't altered our nationality or the tax regime or the incentives Invest NI can offer to come here. The only thing it has altered is the outside world perception of us as a bunch of idiots who think its important enough to have a riot over.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 113.

    I agree. But whether people like it or not, it is being part of the UK that is going to bring jobs etc. Why not keep the flag of the nation flying?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 112.

    Re: WilsonBurrows - 'where does it stop????'
    It stops when we stop talking about it as if it matters and insist our politicians talk about the economy, jobs, education, health service, fuel tax, state of the roads or any of a miriad of other issues which actually impact on peoples lives.

    Everyone should stop trying to take sides and focus on something that actually matters!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 111.

    You would think it was the UVF flag we are talking about here. It is the Council House of a capital city in the UK - fly the bloody flag. It evokes memories of Eddie Irvine trying to fly the white flag at that Grand Prix, where does it stop?????

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 110.

    And the flag HAS NOT BEEN BANNED. It was the Alliance party who suggested the compromise which brings the number of days the flag is flown above City Hall into line with the rest of the UK; without their suggestion, the flag would've been permanently removed. Isn't that what the Unionist community want, to be treated like the rest of the UK? Then why are they trying to burn the city down over it?!

 

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