HEY, Loyal Ulster! The union is safe! Or at least it would be if your addiction to flags didn’t blind you to what’s staring you in the face.
Data from the Office of National Statistics this week showed that the North of Ireland – up to recently the financial outside toilet of the union – is now the best-performing region of the UK in terms of prosperity.
Economic output has bounced back to almost exactly where it was just before the pandemic. In the third quarter of 2021 it was only 0.3 per below that of the last quarter of 2019 (right).
And in another jaw-dropping statistic, the second-placed region in the performance table is the financial boilerhouse of the union, London, where economic output is 1.8 per cent behind where it was at the end of 2019 – and that’s quite a distance between first and second. And the distance between first and last is immense, And what, Loyal Ulster, do you suppose the Financial Times identified as the leading cause of the bounce-back?
No, not the pan-nationalist front.
No, not the Irish Language Act.
No, not two-tier policing.
No, not Michael D Higgins.
No, not Naomi Long.
To the surprise of no-one who is watching developments with the merest sliver of objectivity, the UK’s leading financial publication had this to say of the Hated Provocol, sorry, Protocol.
“The economy of Northern Ireland has largely recovered from the hit of Covid-19, marking the best performance across all UK nations and regions, according to experimental official statistics that point to it prospering under the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
Now Squinter has never claimed to be a political guru; in fact, his record in predicting developments and events is not one that would trouble his local bookmaker. But it’s clear Brexit has changed the landscape in the North enormously, to the point where the race for a border poll has quickened from a canter to a trot to a gallop. And since any referendum on partition is going to be decided by the floating voters, and since floating voters are going to be massively influenced in their decision on what box to tick by their own personal circumstances, if the North started performing like Singapore instead of Albania then the New Ireland movement’s ‘difficult conversations’ are going to get a lot more difficult.
But the good news for the Chucky Crew is that none of the unionist parties has the slightest interest in a six counties with a rising standard of living and a deal of faith in the future. Only pick the battles you can win, wrote Sun Tzu in The Art of War, but it appears that neither Geoffrey Donaldson, Doug Beattie or Jim Allister are up to speed with pre-Christian Chinese military philosophy, because in calling for the Protocol to be binned and not tweaked or improved, they’ve painted themselves into a red, white and blue corner from which there is no survivable retreat.
Because of course the Protocol’s going nowhere. After a comprehensive slapping down by the insanely powerful Ways and Means Committee of the US Congress, David Frost’s comically dramatic threats to the EU about triggering Article 16 have ceased and the British Government now wants to talk about fixing instead of ditching.
The problem is that if by this time next year we were all booking holidays to the West Indies, building conservatories and telling Sinn Féin canvassers to go away round their own door the DUP, UUP and TUV would still be calling for empty shelves and for more sewage in our waters because, just as the Irish Sea border doesn’t actually exist in the sea, unionist opposition to the Protocol doesn’t exist in any economic reality. It’s about an unrequited yearning to belong to a place that at worst groans and slaps its forehead every time the North is mentioned and at best shrugs its shoulders. It’s about an identity and culture whose fatal flaw is that the greater part of it is umbilically connected to somebody else’s identity and culture. Somebody else’s flag. Somebody else’s sword dance. Somebody else’s battles.
And when that somebody else left you with the neighbours to go off on their own, well…
Dundrum sign of the time
‘“PROVOCATIVE” Irish language sign is said to be raising tensions in development where flags are (sic) emblems are forbidden in deeds’.
So lamented the News Letter in a story at the weekend. Squinter’s going to presume the headline should read ‘flags or emblems’ instead of ‘flags are emblems’ as Are Wee Country – sorry, Our Wee Country – has for some time now struggled with the first person plural possessive.
Turns out that some bloke from Dundrum – that wee village you pass through a few miles before Newcastle – rang (or possibly wrote to) the News Letter to complain that a new bilingual sign had gone up in a street in his housing development: Páirc Ghleann an Chaisleáin/Castleglen Park.
It’s not his street, but he was still incensed enough to get on to the one newspaper he could be sure would be willing to give this epic, epoch-making tale of tragedy and woe the attention it deserves.
The chap didn’t want to be named for some unknown reason, perhaps because he feared retaliation by an active service unit of the nearest bunscoil, and so it was that he delivered his impassioned appeal for equality from his vale of tears behind a veil of anonymity.
“It is a mixed village and everybody gets on well together,” he said, “we looked after each other well during lockdown. But there are a small number of republicans who are determined to stir up tensions and this could provoke some local people to react.”
What the nature of that reaction might be our plucky correspondent didn’t say, but Squinter rather doubts it would consist of a stern letter to the Council. Paddy Power has declined to give odds on the sign being defaced before Christmas.
He went on: “The Roman Catholic (* a non-Catholic klaxon sounds) people I know in the development are not happy with these signs.”
Squinter’s quite happy to take the guy at his word when he says he’s discussed the matter with a number of Dundrum bead-rattlers, among whom a consensus has developed that bilingual signage is a horrible idea. But how come he’s up on his hind legs about a street sign that’s not even in his street? Well, let him explain.
“The problem is that Castleglen Park is the entrance to the rest of the development. So the whole development is being labelled and we have to drive through this to get to our own area. But I am sure that if they had surveyed the whole development the signs would have been rejected.”
Let’s leave aside the fact that only one sign is involved and ask ourselves in what way might an Irish sign label a person? As Irish? As bilingual? As bilingual Irish? And in what way would being so labelled impact on that person’s life? Would they lose their credit rating? Might they be refused a visa for America?
Another front in the Battle of Castleglen was opened up by South Down TUV Chairman Ross Holmes, who brought a bit of much-needed legal clarity to the sorry episode. After taking a deep dive into the contractual requirements in the development deeds, he pointed out that the displaying of flags or emblems in the estate is not permitted.
Thumbing his lapels and clearing his throat, Ross said: “Yet the irony is that the Council have just erected a provocative sign that doesn’t represent unionists or comply with the rules of the development.”
Which means that should Ross or are – sorry our – anonymous friend decide to set m’learned friends on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, we may see a very interesting debate on whether a street sign is an emblem (unlikely) or a flag (unlikelier).
For its part, the Council said that it had received a request from a resident of Castleglen Park for the bilingual sign and after a majority of people living in the street said, “Yeah, cinnte,” the proposal was equality-proofed and subsequently approved.
Now hold on a second here. Are we to believe that Ross was asleep at the wheel while all this was going on over two years ago? Can it be that the representative of a party that claims to guard the walls of loyal Ulster 24/7 for its true-blue people let the Dundrum nosey neighbour down by failing to identify and block a clear and present danger?
Anyway, another anonymous resident of Dundrum this week penned a letter to the Down Recorder on a matter that has not troubled the Dundrum Deep Throat, Ross or the News Letter.
Could the organisers that took the time and effort to erect Union and Ulster flags all along Main Street, Dundrum, prior to the Twelfth of July parade please now have the common decency and courtesy to remove these flags?
Both the summer and marching season are well and truly over, so there can be no excuse to continue to leave these flags flying from lampposts, which is serving no purpose at all other than to portray the wrong impression of Dundrum.
I find it depressing that a beautiful village such as Dundrum has to be continually adorned in flags for over two months of the year. You would not see this happening in the likes of Newcastle.
If the organisers have any respect for their village of Dundrum and, more importantly, their Union and Ulster flags, then they should return the Main Street of Dundrum back to normal for local villagers to once again enjoy free from pieces of cloth that are already showing signs of wear and tear.
Seems the “republicans who are determined to stir up tensions” haven’t been active on the flag front, because even though the 2011 census put the population of the village at 60 per cent Catholic (and 10 years on it will be significantly more) and 38 per cent Protestant, you’ll only see loyalist flags on Main Street, which would suggest that the local republicans that are a cause of such deep concern to the News Letter’s Dundrum curtain-twitcher aren’t the blood-soaked threat to Are – sorry Our – Wee Province that he thinks they are.