Irish Republican News · December 7, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Unionists seeking flags ‘revenge’


Unionist politicians are to try to turn the tables after a vote to reduce the flying of the British Union Jack flag above Belfast City Hall -- with a motion that the ‘Butcher’s Apron’ flies 365 days a year above Stormont, the seat of the Six County Assembly.

Since 2002 the British flag has been flown at Stormont on so-called ‘designated days’ -- chiefly birthdays and commemorations of the British royals. It is a policy similar to those currently in use across Britain, and adopted by Belfast City Council on Monday.

DUP Minister Edwin Poots said that flying the Union Jack year-round at the so-called ‘citadel’ of unionism “is something that we do need to look at and we will look at.”

North Belfast colleague Nigel Dodds said the move should require only a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one. Unlike Belfast City Council, those identifying themselves as unionists hold a majority at Stormont, and such a review would likely be passed by that standard.

In the aftermath of the Belfast city council vote, there were also instinctive demands by unionists to fly the British flag year-round from the Cenotaph memorial in the grounds of City Hall, as well as from a number of other sites across the Six Counties.

Alasdair McDonnell of the nationalist SDLP accused the DUP of “aggravating matters” after another DUP Minister, Sammy Wilson, declared that Alliance’s decision to back a reduction in flying the British flag over City Hall had opened “a Pandora’s box”.

Dr McDonnell said: “We have two DUP ministers consciously, recklessly and deliberately inflaming the situation rather than calling for calm.

“There is no chance of doing some thing further in respect of flags at Stormont and this type of comment by two ministers only escalates the situation further.”

While condemning the rioters, DUP leader Peter Robinson said Alliance and the nationalist parties had been “foolish and provocative”. He said the change had “substantially damaged relations” with unionists.

Former UUP leader Tom Elliott reflected the conviction of many unionists that nationalists are somehow gaining the upper hand in the Six Counties -- and that “unionist culture” is under threat.

He claimed that the council vote was “just a sign of things to come for unionists”.

“People should not think that Sinn Fein and their fellow travellers will stop here in their campaign to remove any sign of unionism and Britishness and to increase the presence of Irish nationalism and republicanism within our capital city’s public buildings,” he said.

Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh accused unionist politicians of raising tensions ahead of Monday night’s council vote by urging their supporters to ‘fight back’.

“Those who came to the City Hall came with the intent to create trouble,” he said.

“Fireworks, bricks, golf balls and bolt cutters were taken to the gates of the city hall and used against a wholly inadequate PSNI presence.

“It is very clear that political unionism raised the stakes in this debate.

“Given that they delivered over 40,000 leaflets selectively across Belfast calling for people to mobilise against this council motion they can not hide from their responsibility”.

Alliance leader and justice minister David Ford also pointed to internet forums hosted by both the DUP and UUP which he said had fuelled the trouble.

“DUP and UUP politicians fomented this protest, with both leaflets and the use of social media,” he said.

“They called people onto the streets. They must have known, from experience as recent as this summer, that violence was almost inevitable. They cannot avoid their responsibility.”

He added that any unionist condemnation of the violence was “nothing more than rank hypocrisy”.

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© 2012 Irish Republican News