On Wednesday the 11th of April, UTV reported that a proposal to fly the Irish tricolour alongside the British flag at Stormont would be discussed as part of a debate on “good relations”. 14 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement – a document that is driven by the desire for “good relations” – and we’re still not quite sure what “good relations” means. Well, at least some of us.
Or perhaps there are those who know what “good relations” actually means, but choose to ignore the idea. A disingenuous politician? I hear you cry, No way! Yes way.
Unsurprisingly, DUP politician and Orange Order member Peter Weir has been vocal in his opposition to the proposition, remarkably suggesting that merely flying the national flag of the Irish nationalist community alongside (not instead of, you note) the national flag of the the Irish unionist community will turn Stormont into a “cold house for unionists”. Which surely raises the question, does flying only the union flag turn Stormont into a cold house for nationalists? Answers on a post-card, please.
Adopting the Irish tricolour is more likely to cause harm than to build bridges, says Weir, who was also at pains to dismiss the significance of the proposition by saying that, “[a]t the Assembly, basically anyone can put forward any proposition on any subject…”. You must remember that issues such as respect for identity and “good relations” are trivial, after all.
Commenting on the issue, Sinn Féin’s terrier-like Barry McElduff said that the proposition was ultimately in the interests of promoting equality, of acknowledging and respecting the diversity of cultural identity that exists in the north. The wee Tyrone man stressed that he was not interested in “bulldozing” or omitting the symbols and artifacts of unionism, such as the totemic statue of Edward Carson which stands before Stormont building. Sounds fair enough.
However, at the root of Weir’s objection lies a deeply engrained intolerance. For the likes of Weir, Ulster is British and remnants of the ugly old attitude of “an Orange state for an Orange people” seem to bubble to the surface. For Weir’s constituency, this proposition only signifies a further sop to Irish nationalists and a dilution of the Britishness of the north. Nationalists are told to forget “good relations”, and to sit down, stay quiet and swallow some British symbolism.