If you are like myself, you are probably starting to tire of this ongoing astro-turf uprising in Belfast and across the North where unionism is throwing a fit over a vote taken by Belfast City Council (BCC) for the union flag to be flown on designated days as is the case over Parliament buildings at Stormont or at Lisburn City Council (LCC) which is predominately controlled by unionists and only a few miles down the road from Belfast.
To say that I and many other commentators have discussed the above at length would be an understatement to say the least! I’ve covered it here, here, here and even here a little! The brief recap is that after the vote was taken and the motion above was passed working class unionism has orchestrated demonstrations and often violence in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Armagh, Bangor and elsewhere with death threats being issued against members of the Alliance Party (APNI) including the burning of their constituency office in Carrickfergus.
While Nationalist politicians have come out calling for this violence to be brought to a halt, we have had what can only be described as pretty pathetic responses from political unionism in line with the calls for ‘civil disobedience‘ that we saw from Nelson McCausland during the trouble we saw in Belfast over the summer.
As FJH has noted over on his own site, APNI is not really a party that rolls its sleeves up and does politics, Northern style. They are often allowed to fly under the radar and, in my opinion, come out with soundbites which are largely left unchecked or probed by the Mainstream Media (MSM) or other parties as APNI is not large enough to really effect change outside of the Greater Belfast Metropolitan area. For instance, they have no representation in the Assembly from West of the Bann.
Ian Parsley (IJP) has a rather interesting post on his own site where he details what he believes David Ford should have said at the Assembly and ties this in with ongoing discussions surrounding the Programme for a Shared Future/CSI between all of the parties. At present APNI has left the talks as it is not happy with the direction of the talks. In our discussion I noted that the problem I and many others have with APNI is that they do not provide detailed proposals for what they want, instead they release statements which people largely agree with (mom and apple pie stuff) as they seem not to want to insult or annoy liberal unionists and nationalists. He largely agreed with this contention and will provide some details in the near future, however, as you can imagine he is very busy at the moment and I wish him and his colleagues a speedy return to normality.
However, if we contrast IJP’s post where he has noted that we should try and sort out ALL of this trouble surrounding cultural expressions so that we no longer have violence on our streets and the scenes of lawlessness in the streets, we have a very different message coming from Ed Curran of the Belfast Telegraph and Gerry Lynch over on Slugger O’Toole (SOT), former member of APNI.
Let’s start with Ed over at the Bele Tele. All of the violence seen on the streets in the North is at the hands of unionist violence yet the title of his piece is ‘Sinn Fein’s prodding on flags only heightens fear‘. You would almost think that SF had orchestrated this violence rather than being one of 3 parties that voted for the motion. In fact SF noted it was open to compromise from the outset while the seemingly more liberal SDLP wanted the flag taken down in it’s entirety (which is in line with my own beliefs btw), but lets not have facts on the ground get in the way of the narrative, right?
‘The raw politics of Belfast City Hall destroy that illusion. Sinn Fein appears to unionists to be hell-bent on dismantling British culture and, at times, oblivious to the attitude of the wider unionist community.‘
Yet, as Jude Collins has quite rightly pointed out, City Hall is teeming with British paraphernalia, it is a very warm house to all things pro-union. We are merely talking about bringing the flying of the union flag into line with what LCC has agreed to do (a unionist controlled council) and is the case with Stormont also. The flag still flies, only on designated days.
‘Northern Ireland will not go forward in the way that it should unless Sinn Fein tempers its ways. It may be under pressure from dissident republicans to demonstrate a tough line with unionists but it must not forget that it is in partnership in a country where a majority of people still see themselves as British. Northern Ireland’s wider image is tarnished yet again. It will be damaged further if unionists cannot demonstrate cooler heads.’
This is very true. The fact that SF and the SDLP did temper its ways by voting for a compromise shows unionist anger up for being as baseless as we all know. But of course, Ed is a unionist and doesn’t like what he sees.
‘Sinn Fein councillors in Belfast may congratulate themselves on scoring a knock-down in the perpetual boxing match with unionism. In raising the flags issue in the way that they did – especially on the eve of Christmas – they have hurt the feelings of even the most moderate unionists. That approach will take this community nowhere fast.‘
Hurt the feelings of unionists? Boo hoo! It must be remembered that political unionism whipped up resentment when it could have quite easily noted SF and the SDLP’s original intentions and that a compromise had now been made where Nationalist parties had agreed to the flying of the union flag in Belfast. Yet, as always, political unionism seems to pull a massive defeat from the jaws of victory and compromise.
Further, when would have been a good time to have this vote? Blaming the timing is a mere smoke screen and de facto condones the violence that has been whipped up. The fact that the flags issue in its current guise has actually been raised by political unionism is of course overlooked, he wouldn’t want to actually face up to the responsibility for this violence that his political representatives are liable for which is nothing new from unionism.
‘This was not what I was promised from the new Northern Ireland. In that at least, both the middle-aged woman with her placard and I agree. I don’t think anyone expected it to be perfect. But we all expected a lot better than this. The problem is that we were all sold different interpretations of what the new dispensation meant. We are all learning that reality is not quite as advertised. On the political fringes, the disappointment is acute.‘
The piece makes for fascinating reading. I fully understand his anger, however, I have to step back a little and well, laugh. Why? It is so unbelievably naive for one. Aside from the fact that he uses it as a weapon to attack the DUP and SF for selling ‘lies’ to their respective followers. I don’t buy this for one moment, nor do I buy his other assertions such as:
i) ‘Sinn Féin pretended to its supporters that there was a simple and rapid route to reunification because a Catholic majority was inevitable and coming quickly’.
This is quite funny and as a Nat from a staunchly Republican background this is news to me and probably many others.
ii) ‘The Alliance Party will soon hold the balance of power across Northern Ireland as it already does in Belfast.‘
Really? They have nothing West of the Bann, does Gerry know something we don’t?
Where is his criticism of the largest parties during the negotiations; the SDLP and UUP? What about the loudest cheerleaders of all, APNI? You’ve guessed it, there is none whatsoever because that would be rather inconvenient and when blaming someone in the North commentators feel the need to counter-balance it and show how the others are just as bad.
Gerry is suffering from buyers remorse, however, this begs the question, what did Gerry et al really think they were sold? Did they not read the fine print? Have they not paid attention over the past decade or so at what was happening in the North or is he more disappointed that his ‘good guys’ aren’t really the winners?
So, what does Gerry prescribe to sort out this synthetic anger in Belfast?
‘Here’s a modest proposal – we all accept that the status quo is not going to change on the difficult issues of public national identity for 10 years, until we get this ‘Decade of Centenaries’ over us. Clyde Valley and the Easter Rising have too many resonances for the young and hot-headed just at the moment. So, until this is over us, why don’t we park the balance of power, while we unpark the difficult cultural conversations. No less parades, no more parades. Where they get through, they get through and where they’re rerouted, they’re rerouted. No less Irish language, no more Irish language. Controversial renamings of council facilities end.‘
‘[l]et the younger and less tribalised to come to a decision on these matters in the fullness of time.‘
Are you sure that they will be less tribalised Gerry or are you speculating and hoping against hope that by kicking the can down the line that this will be the case? As was noted previously, BCC and other major buildings in the North are pretty warm places for unionism.
We are supposed to have parity of esteem with regard to cultural expressions in the North between the two main, historic ethno-communities yet Gerry says we should just forget about that for fear of antagonising one another. At the moment, the placing of an Irish Christmas Greeting in one of the windows of City Hall is gravely offensive to some unionists, why I have really no idea but I have noted their policies or opinions on the use of Irish and how unionism has made it into a massively political issue.
So, what’s the reason that I have used the ‘croppie lie down’ insult in my title then? Well, at the moment we have a state that does not have parity of esteem between the two main communities in relation to cultural expression. We have one community whose culture in the main seems comprised of reminding their neighbours who there are fewer of that they are going to hell due to following the ‘anti-christ’ or that they have won an earlier political settlement and this flows into wanting to quash any expressions of the Irish identity by a sizeable minority as simply abhorrent.
Meanwhile, Nats whether politicians, voters or activists are being asked by Gerry and Ed to be wary of what they want, that we should not ask for any more Irish Language rights or contest parades that we find disgusting attempts to by thugs to essentially take over areas in which we live and ‘remind us’ of our place in the state. I’m sorry but that’s not going to happen and nor should it.
I appreciate that Gerry and his friends are having to face orchestrated violence at the moment, something no one should have to face nowadays, however, his piece smacks of someone who is unwilling to actually face down these problems and just hopes that they will go away. We know that in real life problems need to be tackled, not ignored, and this is also the case in a country coming from a civil war situation too. It shows a lack of back bone on his part too that he would suggest anything like this and, without wishing to get personal, is probably one of the reasons why he didn’t get elected when he stood for election.
I suspect Robbo knows that these problems will not go away, that the demographics are turning against his brand of unionism and if he wants to keep up the pretense for a little longer he will need to strike a grand bargain with Nats sooner rather than later, otherwise it may be a death for cultural ‘British’ symbolism in the North by a thousand cuts.