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Equality for tricolour

By Staff Reporter

In the week in which Orangemen announced their first-ever rally at Stormont, without any protest from nationalists, it might have been thought unionists would react with some decorum to the suggestion that the flag of Ireland be unfurled above Stormont.

But that was not to be.

There is, of course, a sneaking suspicion among nationalists that the reason why the Loyal Orders haven’t previously trooped the colours at Stormont is that it’s much more fun marching through areas where the Catholics live. Thus Stormont has been fairly low down on the must-visit lists for the bowler hatted gents who preside over the Grand Lodge.

Whatever about that, the Orange should know that they have carte blanche from nationalism to raise a glass to King Billy at Stormont where they plan that massive Covenant centenary knees-up in the near future. The only piece of reciprocity nationalists would request is that they steer clear of areas where they are decidedly not welcome on their way to the ‘field’.

Rebel unionist David McNarry suggests the use of Stormont for the Orange gathering without howls of protest from the people who once wouldn’t have been about the place reflects a growing maturity among society at large.

“I think we’ve grown up as democrats and as politicians,” he said.

Would that were so. For the same day as the Orange centenary hooley was cleared for Stormont, unionist politicians were up in arms at the very thought of the Tricolour fluttering above the Stormont Assembly.

No matter that almost 50 per cent of the population in the benighted six counties sees itself as Irish or that nationalists now number significantly more than half of the population aged 35 and under. In fact, forget the numbers: it’s the principle that counts. And the principle in this case is the promise of equality for both nationalist and unionist traditions contained within the Good Friday Agreement. The clauses guaranteeing parity of esteem for nationalism have always stuck in the unionist craw; Reg Empey once opined that if nationalist emblems and symbols were given equal footing, what purpose the union?

But unionist resistance to change is untenable. How can you build peace with your neighbours if you continue to deny their heritage and traditions – best captured in the Irish flag – the respect they deserve? In Belfast City Hall, the Union flag is on its last legs. As Belfast becomes more diverse, the idea of flying the British flag for 365 days a year is more ridiculous than ever. Indeed, you can’t have a shared Belfast – and the city’s only hope for the future is to become a metropolis for all – while honouring just one tradition from the dome of City Hall.

Ditto Stormont. Under an odorous subterfuge facilitated by then Secretary of State Peter Mandelson, Stormont, which was to have been devoid of national flags, flies the union flag on 17 ‘designated’ days. For us, unless the Tricolour is allowed to fly on 17 days also, that’s an untenable arrangement.

Regardless of how the current debate pans out at Stormont, unionists should be in no doubt that the new political dispensation being enjoyed in the North of Ireland comes with a price: that price must be equal respect for Irish culture – especially the Irish language, Irish heritage and Irish symbols – starting with the Tricolour.

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