Symbolism at heart of DUP stadium turnaround

By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)

The signals that the DUP has got cold feet about a sports stadium at the Maze are evidence of a wider malaise in unionism.

When Peter Robinson finally turns down the plans for the stadium you’ll hear lots of talk about ‘the business case’ and where to find £240 million and ‘revenues consequences’ and other gobbledegook.

The real reason the DUP will turn down the stadium is symbolism.

It’s not just the concerns about a conflict transformation centre in the complex, which will certainly incorporate memorials to republican hunger strikers.

It’s also the prospect of sharing the place with the GAA, the fact that the stadium will be used regularly on Sundays, that tricolours will be flown and the Soldier’s Song played.

Unionists want what they call a ‘national’ stadium, though of what nation they can’t say, but more importantly one that they own. They can’t own one if they have to share it with fenians prancing about in it.

That’s why you hear talk now of Windsor Park and the Blanchflower stadium in east Belfast. They know there’s no danger of the GAA buying into either venue or of fenians patronising such venues.

Symbolism is why the DUP were delighted to have the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), just as the UUP in 2000 were prepared to hand Sinn Féin health and education rather than let them get their hands on DCAL.

If you’ve ever thought about it, you may have wondered why the DUP wanted such a department.

After all, the DUP is to culture, arts and leisure what the Netherlands is to mountain climbing.

Well, that isn’t strictly true because you can’t do mountain-climbing in the Netherlands even if you wanted to. In the case of the DUP they are notoriously agin culture, arts and leisure. Even if they could engage in such pursuits they wouldn’t.

You never know what they might lead to.

To paraphrase Doctor Johnson, a DUP minister, “culture is like a dog walking on its hinder legs. It is not done well but you are surprised to find it done at all”.

It’s an inherent absurdity.

It’s reminiscent of the American satirist Tom Lehrer who decided he could no longer perform after Henry Kissinger won the Nobel peace prize in 1973. “That day,” Lehrer said, “satire died.”

Why were the DUP so keen to get DCAL? Simple.

To stop fenians gaelicising culture, arts and leisure, that’s why.

The DUP wants to continue the well-worn unionist pastime of trying to abolish or conceal any manifestation of Irishness.

That’s what lies behind the daft nonsense going on in Banbridge and Limavady about saucers and mugs.

There’s a simple way for unionists to avoid these silly confrontations and that is for unionists to accept equal prominence for nationalist symbols.

Ideally, somewhere in the shimmering Shangri-La there will be a day when both the union jack and tricolour fly over the town halls in Banbridge and Limavady and at Stormont too.

It won’t be any time soon. Unionists refuse to countenance any Irish symbolism full stop, even though in some cases they aren’t aware that some of their own cherished symbols are Irish.

If they did accept equal prominence for Irish symbolism there would be no reason to remove unionist kitsch from town halls. It could happily sit alongside Irish kitsch. They won’t however, so the result is no symbols of either side are permitted.

Unionists whinge on about republicans removing every unionist article from public buildings, denying unionist identity and so on. Yet no-one can get it into their bone heads that it is precisely because they refuse to recognise the existence of the other side’s symbols that they can’t have their own.

The agreement that Ian Paisley signed up to prevents them from owning anything exclusively any more, from the Office of First Minister down to a display cabinet in Ballygobackwards town hall.

If they turn down the Maze stadium Sinn Féin will veto any other location. The same principle applies as to saucers.

If they want to call some place their ‘national’ stadium then they have to recognise there’s another legitimate view of the world.

If they won’t, then they get nothing.

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