The Flying of Flags. Good or Bad?
All of the people of Belfast, each citizen, would have some view on what a flag is, or what a flag should and should not be used for. Some would feel a really strong emotional attachment with either the Union Flag or the Irish Tri-colour. Both flags are relatively recent to our modern history. Both cause debate, argument and regular amounts of violence, especially within the deprived areas of Belfast, where flags of both variety are flown with complete disregard for their neighbour.
Is this a good thing? Should this happen? Are the people who fly these flags doing anything wrong? Is this ever challenged? Who has the right to fly flags? Why should flags be flown from lamp posts? (It’s not very illuminating now is it?) Is it the citizen’s right to fly flags from lampposts provided by money collected from the ratepayer? Could I fly any flag I wanted to even if it caused offence or was seen as intimidating? And if I put up one of my choosing could I then put up ten more, twenty more, a hundred more? Is that my right, if I was unchallenged, as a citizen of Belfast?
If that was my right, why should I feel the need to cover my face? Unless I felt I was doing something wrong. Unless I was breaking the law, the law of Britain.
As a citizen, is there a limit to the amount of flags I can display in any particular area? Are there local by-laws that inform us as to what the guidelines are? If so, are they enforced by the local police force or judicial system, effectively?
Are the rights of the citizens of Belfast, as a whole, ( by far, the overwhelming majority), in conflict with a small group of citizens today? If the smaller group decide to go against the wishes of the majority and display flags of whatever type, and these flags cause offence, disagreement and very costly violence (£15 million), surely the smaller group are breaking their agreement, to be law abiding citizen with no “consequence” as if no law has been broken?
Lessons from History.
Many of these similar events, actions and tactics occurred in Germany in the early 1930’s The average citizen remained silent as people were intimidated, properties attacked, individuals abused and the rights of the “majority” curtailed by the “minority”.
Over 80 years later, when you think that this kind of thing couldn’t possibly happen again, in a fairly liberal, relatively peaceful modern country, recovering from over 40 years of “ejits” running round killing each other, that “more of the same” could break out on our streets, is an absolute tragedy. My great sadness is for the very people who have been wrecking their own communities. It is almost like a funeral ritual. The burning and the ashes held up to the glory of something now gone. Their own sense of self.
They seem to be tearing at themselves like unhappy childen, scratching and cutting themselves as if they have no other form of control over their own lives.
It doesn’t add up?
The recent rioting and destruction caused by the flag issue seems completely disproportionate to the issue itself, but not when placed into the context of our own deeply destructive and violent culture. For that is what we have here. (Yes! Even the middle classes too. In many ways they are even worse, more troubled, manipulative and deeply divisive. The very carriers of the disease in the dark recesses of their subtle minds. Even managing to fool themselves into thinking that they were never involved in the Troubles at all. How wrong they are . . .).
The media, the churches, the educational systems all contained, within some of their veins a hidden kind of sectarianism, more dangerous than any “thrower of bricks” could ever produce on the streets. (Please read “The Bomb” from the previous article.)
“Gate Keepers” in very responsible roles probably caused more havoc within particular local structures, over extended periods of time and from one desk, than a whole host of rioters. Yet, they remain unseen.
I think we have to embrace the fact that we all have “faulty wiring” in this part of the world. It’s not just “them over there” who are at fault, it’s “us too”. We are all tainted with the residue of sectarian hatred and until we accept that fact, and that in many ways “we are all wrong”, we will never fully heal ourselves or our society.
My recent dismay at the “Christmas Riots” (a contradiction in terms) makes me feel that there are some seriously damaged and deranged people, effectively being allowed to create havoc within their own communities, never mind the damage to the livelihoods of hundreds of shop keepers in Central Belfast and throughout the Belfast area.
If this is the case should Northern Ireland, (as a special cultural exception), have its own specially tailored laws, regarding the display and use of flags, to ensure and strengthen “neighbourliness” between communities?
The fort by the mouth of the rivers.
Returning to that original Norman fort, close to the crossing of the rivers near, what is now Central Belfast. How many flags do you need to let your neighbour know how you feel about your own political identity? One ? A hundred? Three Hundred? Or more?
How do we feel about who we are?
Like a mathematical calculation, does the number of flags, the way you display flags, wear flags or poke your neighbour with your own flag, indicate the level of your own intense personal insecurity about who you actually are?
So I am asking, does the greater quantity of bunting, marching, flag waving amongst any local community (Unionist or Nationalist) suggest a greater need for that community to ask itself “How do we feel about who we are? What are our basic concerns? Is it about employment? Is it about Educational opportunities as an adult and for our children? How many of us can read, write and speak to a level where our job prospects are increasing across the community?
If any community places its perceived symbol or flag highest in a list of local priorities, disregarding being “invaded”, literally invaded, by alcohol and smoking related diseases, obesity, adoescent pregnancy, serious drug issues, lack of employment, literacy and educational under-achievement, then I would suggest that any community in that situation has come so low that they need some serious help and support to lift themselves up and ask each other “What is going on? Our local leaders, where are they? What kind of leaders are they if they are just wasting all our energy and resources on one issue, like a flag?”
You can’t eat a flag. A flag won’t teach you how to write or how to lose weight. Any flag won’t enable you access to birth control or family planning. A flag won’t run an after schools group for you, put petrol in your car or look after your elderly relative. A flag won’t give you a loan, give you a mortgage or make you content in your life. If all you think you have, to make you feel like you is a flag then you are really missing out on living and, as they say “I think you should get out more . . . beyond the confines of your own community and see how other people live, who feel secure enough within themselves to not have the need to bedeck themselves with one “brand” and in the process, destroy much of their own wee space. The space they love. Their very own community itself. The very thing they say they are trying to defend.”
The safety of the dark tower.
Every ancient tower in Northern Ireland, be it a monastic one (fear of the Vikings or from local raiders), a cashel, a crannog, a castle, a bawn or a tower house, are all an indication of one thing existing over thousands of years on these islands. “Fear”. It makes you do many a thing to keep yourself safe and secure.
In our own towers, deep within our own skulls, high up in our heads, we look out at the world and at those people and situations which give us cause for concern.
“Fear is a tower that sits in the land.” A wee line from one of my songs, simply called “The Tower”.
It is within our own human nature to be aggressive, to want things, to want what other people have. Some people use violence, the threat of violence or intimidation to achieve their own ends. Not for their own communities but to merely exercise control over them.
This is a global and ancient phenomenon. A dark aspect of human nature. That doesn’t make it right or fair or positive.
Until this type of community leadership changes, through pragmatism and hopefully, their imagination, there will be no shared peace or real progress.
My flag design speaks different words and offers choices yet to be discovered. Is it time for a shared community civic flag for Belfast in 2013? The scarey thing about change is change itself.