Despite not living there at the moment, what has been going on in Belfast this week has seriously pissed me off. More than 14 years on and the ugly head of the anti-democratic loyalist mob has reared its head again.
On the face of it, it's much ado about nothing - a lot of people very angry about the mere removal of a flag 348 days of the year. But there's a lot more to it than that - it's the old siege mentality coming back to the fore. Unionists are worried that this is an attack on their Britishness and that the flag is just the first step.
This sums it up perfectly. The decision taken was a fully democratic one to take down a flag from the City Hall that a majority of the population of Belfast do not see as representative of them. If you don't like it, make a point of voting for somebody else at the next election - but take a moment to think not of what you want but of what's best for NI (sure, I'd love to see a tricolour on City Hall, but I accept that not only is it a bad idea but not right. You don't see me rioting about it).
The Union Jack means a lot of things to a lot of people. Yes, it is the flag of the UK and yes, NI is part of the UK. But flags are symbols, and in NI the Union Jack has always been seen as a symbol of the domination of one community over the other. This is why it should be taken down - as a symbol of the (supposed) equal rights of all in the new NI. No one for a moment is suggesting flying the Irish tricolour - that wouldn't be right. Flying both flags side by side wouldn't work either, officially the tricolour has no standing in NI. Flying nothing at all is best, until we can come up with something that everyone can get behind (which will probably be never.)
Not flying the Union Jack does not mean leaving the Union. At the minute, nobody wants that. Unionism, though, has never been inclusive - it is entirely built on exclusivity. Loyalist 'culture' has for too been based on shows of strength, intimidation, manipulation and disregard for justice. Now, times have changed, and the current arrangement is quite fair - but many are not willing to accept the new status quo. The current anger towards the conciliation of the Alliance party is indicative of the inherent extremism of Loyalism - not dissimilar to the US Tea Party.
This time of year, there's a brilliant Christmas market outside the city hall (just under the flagpole). The sight of rioting where there should be Christmas shopping, German beer and macaroons shows how out of touch those involved are. Most people just don't give a shit any more. Symbols have their place but they are divisive; so take them down off City Hall, keep them down and move on Belfast. Don't ruin everything. NI wants a shared future.SHARED. Sharing means compromise, not domination. Engagement, not posturing. And above all it means democracy, not just lip service. So Unionists, please, accept it and move on. You're making yourselves look stupid on the world stage. And moderate Unionists, take responsibility and reign in what I can only describe as dickheads.