Belfast, from the Sublime to the Flegs

January 15, 2013 at 10:06 pm 6 comments

I do this for a reason. I want you to donate to a children’s charity and write to me. Please see the About Lesley page or read the instructions at the end of this post…..

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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Entry filed under: Children, Donating, Education, Giving, Life, Northern Ireland, wheniwas8. Tags: , , , , , , , .

It is the Little Things…. First World Problems?

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Adrian King (@adrian_king)  |  January 16, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Hello Lesley,

    Thoughtful piece… Yet possible to see that it is close to your heart.

    I believe that you are right – I think that (in the “west”) people feel pretty much the same about politicians everywhere. It’s notable that our Westminster government always achieve a “clear mandate” with a pitiful minority of those eligible to vote for them. The parties emphasise the differences, even when they are minor, in order to create a motivation to vote for them. Failing that, personal attacks on the opposition are a good fall back position – with the Unionist vs Republican being the centrepiece for this in Northern Ireland.

    The other difference for Northern Ireland is that the challenges are greater and much more pressing, although to those of us not living there it appeared that some significant strides have been made.

    I have no evidence for this, but suspect that there are parallels with the most recent London riots. Lack of opportunity and ambition for large numbers of society are a potent mixture.

    We all want a simple solution, whilst realising that this is not possible. There has to be long term effort across a broad range of actions, which does not make for good political soundbites. Which leads me to conclude that the real solutions will come from “real” people working on the ground in their own and neighbouring communities…. Just as it has always been. (Though it would be nice to see some maturity and leadership from our politicians in this direction, too!)

    Keep up the good work!



    • 2. when i was 8 i wanted to be....  |  January 17, 2013 at 9:33 pm


      Thank you! A thoughtful and mature comment.

      I agree, we would love a simple solution but it will take a lot of work and effort to improve the underlying conditions that allow this kind of behaviour to rise up periodically. This would also be the case for the London riots.

      I have a (perhaps overyl optimistic) hope that changes to our education system and work from those on the ground will start to make some headway in Northern Ireland. The thing is, most of us who live in this little country want this to stop and stop forever. Hopefully we, the normally silent majority, will prevail.

      Lesley x

  • 3. Tony  |  January 15, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Agree with you though am sceptical about benefits of integrated education.Was educated myself in the Catholic sector and encountered not one derisory word about other faiths.Also what good would it do when we have marching organisations who indoctrinate their followers with sectarianism from childhood,along with fundamentalist groups.

    • 4. when i was 8 i wanted to be....  |  January 15, 2013 at 11:02 pm


      My education was much the same. I was educated in the Protestant sector and was always encouraged to think fairly and rationally. I get what you mean but would hope that education starts to address that indoctrination….

      Thank you for writing to me.


  • 5. Bob  |  January 15, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Nice piece Lesley. The thought that the monsters are one’s mirror image is powerful.
    As lifestyles equalise and society become more secular, then, possibly, communities will see what they have in common rather than what makes them different from each other.
    History will need to fade to grey as the generations pass and some common causes will need to emerge but over time (even if time has to be measured on a geological scale!), I’m hopeful that change will come.
    I realise that I’m just being one of those ill informed outsiders but I hope you’ll cut me some slack on that.

    • 6. when i was 8 i wanted to be....  |  January 15, 2013 at 10:38 pm


      Thank you for your comment, it reflects my hopes for the future.

      We sometimes feel as if we have come a long way but it doesn’t take much to make our world feel slightly rocky. I hope we move forward and get that stable environment we do all want.

      Lesley x


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