Citizenship. A New Civic Flag for Belfast 2013. Nos 2.
As a little boy, growing up in Belfast, I was unaware of the history of the city. Unaware of how Belfast had come into being. I was ignorant too (in the truest sense of the word) of my own family history. Of how I had come into being.
Would it have been better if I had never known who I was? Better to not understand the various colourful elements and experiences, which shaped my own history, my personality and outlook?
Surely not . . . ?
On the 24.8.2000 I presented my idea for a Belfast Civic Flag, (originally only in Blue, Green and White), to the Cultural Diversity Sub Committee of Belfast City Council.
The idea had grown out of my involvement with a personally motivated activity called “The Peace Blanket Project” 1996-1999. This was originally an art based idea for individual expression. Initially, it reached out to church based groups, then community groups and artists, both here and in other countries supportive of expressing a desire for peace.
Some of the venues were within churches community halls, Carrickfergus Castle, An Culturlann, West Belfast, The Waterfront Hall and Peace House, Lisburn Road, Belfast.
As we have just passed the anniversary of the Belfast Peace Agreement, it seems to me, incredibly sad that so little has been achieved with regard to symbols and emblems by our city council from 2000 to 2013. Thirteen years of not coming up with anything effective that reflects the positive change in our city. No emerging new symbol of change, of peace and of progress.
Of course, I am not aware of the work that our council have done, in detail, nor the money spent, or the results. But it seems to me that, while they have probably promoted cross community dialogue and stimulated “community relations” in a broad sense, when it comes to the contentious issue of flags our city councillors are still unable to move forward or come up with anything new for one particular reason . . .
Violence, the threat of violence and intimidation.
If there was no fear of “The Bogey Man” we could all lead a normal life. In fact without this one element would we have had The Troubles? Violence and the threat of violence has often, perhaps always, been the means by which you “got things done” in the past, as far back as the Normans and our noble Gaelic Chieftains. Familiar to Vikings and Reivers alike. Violence has always been the main form of non-political currency in Ireland and Britain, and beyond. It’s part of being human.
If you don’t like someone you “go punch their lights out”, at least, that’s what some people think.
This early social and martial template is familiar the world over, as seen in “The Seven Samurai” or “The Magnificent Seven”.
So it is easy to understand why Belfast, as a city, has symbols, but nothing that we can all say is ours. In order to agree on something we need to feel that we can express our democratically held opinions without experiencing violence, the threat of violence or intimidation.
Until this changes Belfast City Council will continue to effectively do nothing. “Same old, same old”. To only tick boxes and, in some senses, waste money.
Sadly the Cultural Diversity Sub Committee didn’t really respond to my idea for a new civic flag in 2000 (as logical as it seemed to me) and the issue has never, in a public sense, been debated, scrutinized or worked through effectively with the public having a say, voicing their opinion or actually being asked.
So how do we address the thought of something new?
(I’ll apologise now for any spelling mistakes, errors in grammar and for having an informed opinion . . .).