AS I watched the Newtownmountkennedy Irregulars on manoeuvres in recent weeks, the question occurred to me that always occurs when the Free State Far-Right (henceforth FSFR) attempt to claim the mantle of Plunkett, Pearse and Tone: Where the hell are Belfast’s Tommy Robinson wannabes?

No, you’re right – of course they’re out putting flags up outside mosques, attacking Asian shops and burning down multicultural centres. But those are the loyalist Tommies, who make themselves known after a feed of pints on band night in the Flag and Flute. I’m talking about the cross-community Tommies – the cohort that includes people with tricolours, Guevara or Sands in their social media bios, but who part company with Che and Bobby when it comes to solidarity with the downtrodden of the Earth who happen to be brown or black. And, believe me, there are plenty of them, much as West Belfast likes to imagine itself a haven of equality and enlightenment.

I’m wondering why there aren't sizeable and noisy groups on the streets of Belfast with their lusty, patriotic cries and their sometimes correctly-spelt banners. I'm wondering why we're so different from Dublin and Newtownmountwherever. 

ARSON: Police and Fire Service investigators at the gutted Donegall Pass multicultural centre in 2022

ARSON: Police and Fire Service investigators at the gutted Donegall Pass multicultural centre in 2022

Granted, I saw three fleg protesters at City Hall on a Saturday lunchtime recently, but their job now seems to be looking jealously and sullenly on while variously motivated larger demos take place beside them. And while I have no doubt that those who want the butcher’s apron back up at City Hall 24/7 have views on immigration that chime with those of the FSFR, that agonisingly poignant weekly tableau hardly qualifies as a far-right demo.

The good news is that I know the answer to my own question. I know why there's not a Peace People-style city centre Fatherland and Flagfest of the kind we’re seeing in Dublin these days. I know why there's not a hands-across-the-barricades coming together of Nigel Farage admirers from the Falls and the Shankill marching from their respective locales into town to share hugs, stiff arm salutes and Bernard Manning jokes.

The answer’s very simple when we consider that the one thing that unites the right, historically and contemporaneously, is the moving, tender and intimate relationship they have with their thankfully washable flags. Take a look at the Facebook Fusiliers outside the GPO blaming immigrants without a pot to piss in for the housing crisis created by people who appear in the Style section of the Sindo. There’s only one thing they like more than racist social memes about Moozlims, poofters, cucks and commies – and that’s the flags they carry (imported from the People’s Republic of China). Tricolour flags, Éire go Bragh flags, Ireland is Full flags, Send Them Home flags.

Imagine what the previously imagined cross-community hatefest in Belfast would look like; and then consider the reality that when the sea of union jacks crashes into a cliff face of tricolours in Donegall Place, amidst the roar and crash of the white surf that the collision throws up, they’re going to forget about that brown guy who’s wrecked their country even though everything he owns can fit in a Lidl bag. And they’re going to remember that the tricolour is the Ra and the union jack is the Brits.

So it’s never going to happen, because back home that night their reputations wouldn’t survive the first 30-second clip on Insta of them standing under ‘that flag’ with ‘that guy’.

The same angry and simplistic self-absorption that informed their past views on the conflict and the tattoos on their arms informs their current views on immigration. And that view can be summed up simply in around a dozen words: ‘We hate migrant transexual lefties, but not enough to stop hating Taigs/Huns.

So hooray for sectarianism, I say. I didn’t know it was going to come in handy one day, but I’ll take the win.