Belfast, from the Sublime to the Flegs
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I promised I would write about my lovely Norn Iron and the ‘Flegs’ protests. You might say flags, you will find that most Norn Iron folks say flegs. To be honest, this is not a post that I will enjoy writing. This is my country and yet again we show ourselves, in your eyes, to be intolerant, divisive, even destroying ourselves from the inside again? Tempting as it is to type, ‘You might say that, I couldn’t possibly comment’, here I go.
The flag dispute has come about because Belfast City Council have voted to only fly the Union Flag on ‘designated’ days. This already happens most other places and to many wasn’t a huge deal. However, certain Unionist politicians took umbrage at this and decried the continuing erosion of Protestant culture and tradition. They shouted and roared, some of them stirred up their supporters talking of protests, ‘get out there and object, show your loyalty to the flag!’. This has placed the whole country in a maelstrom of protest, riots and endless talking.
So, as I see it, the politicians yet again stir people up. That’s the thing about Norn Iron politics, any and every discussion always seems to start with the divisions across the religious and/or political divide. We have our own political news programmes and they bring together many opinions but, sure as eggs is eggs, the ‘debate’ doesn’t start with Education, health or employment, it starts with a pop at the other side. And they demand that we grow up? I listened to BBC Radio Ulster this morning and had to turn it off when the politicians started talking. I know this is wrong, I know I should be interested and involved in my country. I am aware, I listen and read but when I see so much childish tit-for-tat it makes me mad. I am sure citizens from most places feel like this in some way about the pettiness of politicians but I don’t see my country making real progress until our politicians grow up.
There is also a more insidious effect in all of this. In the 1960s and 1970s there was a strong manufacturing presence in Northern Ireland. For the working class, especially Belfast Protestants, you walked from the school gates through the doors of Harland and Wolff or Shorts, your life was mapped for you and you didn’t have to worry. That certainty had an impact, it reduced the need for ambition. Credit for this certainty was always claimed by the politicians, ‘look how we take care of you’. In the 21st Century that certainty is gone. A lack of prospects and an education system that creaks has left us with one, perhaps two, generations of people who don’t have hope. What does it matter to you when a restaurant or shop closes, further chipping away at the overall economy, when you couldn’t afford to go there anyway?
I have had a bit of a rant haven’t I? And you are perfectly entitled to ask me what I think the solution is.
Simple answer – politics about issues and not beliefs coupled with an integrated education system. While people are divided by words and upbringing they will always be divided. Those other people aren’t monsters, they are your mirror image. Until everyone in Northern Ireland lives this way there will always be that suspicion and separation. Sad, isn’t it? Feel free to tell me your thoughts….
Addition to original post – please don’t think I am an apologist for violence, those who do it are wrong and should be subject to the law.
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