A new descriptive paper* by Dr Jonny Byrne investigated the background to the Flag protests.
Since the decision had been taken to‘remove’ the Union Flag from flying 365 days a year over Belfast City Hall,
protestors said there was a ‘strong sense of loss’, which was often difficult to articulate.
“The removal of the flag is an illustration of where our society is going, a place that doesn’t accommodate a Unionist tradition”
Comment: Protesters seem unable to distinguish between Unionism (a desire to maintain the union with the UK) and human/civil rights in a modern democracy.
The protests were “about the preservation of the rights of the Protestant people”.
Q. What exactly are they? How and why do they differ from the rights of other people living in NI?
“The protests were about telling those in power and wider society that the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist people were not going to let their sense of ‘Britishness’, be airbrushed from the ‘new’ Northern Ireland“.
‘they pick, pick, pick and pick away at our culture until all we are left with is scraps’.
Sir John Major
has described this as a “phantom fear”.
Comment: Diagnosis, or naming the phobia, needs to be followed by therapy to overcome it
Respondents felt that over the last decade it was becoming more difficult to express their identity, celebrate their culture and acknowledge their past
“We are under threat…you have seen it with the bands were we cant even play music in certain places
and with the bonfires were we are being told what we can and cannot burn”
Malachi O’Doherty,”The DUP certainly regards it as a culture war: conflict by other means. I don’t know who first viewed it this way“,
Comment: They object to conforming to modern Health, Safety, Environmental laws. There appears to be no awareness that aspects of their culture are sectarian and offensive. Many non-Catholics were appalled by the behaviour of the band at St Patrick’s Church. And by the pitiful excuses produced in court.
“they were unaware that only a single drum beat was to be played on the contentious stretch of their route along Donegal Street. Eyesight and reading limitations formed part of the defence case.”
Many more non-Catholics were aghast by what was said at Twadell Avenue
Respondents find it difficult to articulate what is meant by Loyalism, especially those that claim to be a Loyalist.
There was agreement that historically the word was associated with paramilitary activity and had recently become demonised as a term because of criminals claiming to be Loyalists.
Essentially, it incorporated a number of things:
“You are loyal to the crown”
and your Britishness…and your history and identity
and the people that made it possible for you to be here now”
Comment:We already knew all that, didn’t we?
Brian John Spencer: Loyalists want to run large with no opposition, no counter-narrative, no resistance. By their false doctrine of loyalist exceptionalism, they hold a special privilege in society – They are beyond reproach and rebuff.This is a hideous state of affairs. Their iron band of total reign leaves no space for other views and voices. Anything in dissent is automatically branded either as snobbish, or as a malign and malevolent “Fenian”/”IRA”/”taigy” intervention. Failing that, the person or persons will get beat up.By this formula, their violent and extremist grip endures in a negative feedback loop. Simply by abolishing, silencing and censoring the unwelcome voice. Loyalism is sending Northern Ireland to hell in a handcart and you can’t do anything about it. By their formula, they have the whip-hand over you and you can say absolutely nothing.. This is abhorrent, nauseating and grotesque and must be opposed
Coment:There is apparently no awareness that these slogans and symbols no longer mean anything. How would respondents react to some of the arguments being put forward by English Republicans? For example,
“The Crown currently gives our government huge powers that it can use without needing parliament’s permission. Getting rid of the Crown would give our elected parliament more power and control over the government.”
According to respondents in the Byrne study, the equality agenda was a Republican
Agenda and parity of esteem was simply a myth being peddled by Sinn Féin,
Comment: Apparently no understanding of what these terms mean.
Proposals for the Stormont Administration:
1)A capillary Human Rights education programme will help these peopleunderstand the concepts “equality” and parity of esteem”. Meetings will need to be held in practically every community building to explain the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, the EU charter, modern UK and ROI legislation and so on and so forth.
Conducting this educational programme will provide work for unemployed teachers, young law graduates, human rights activists etc
2) All public buildings should be obliged and shops encouraged/given incentives to display appropriate relevant posters.
Drawing up and producing posters will provide work for young graphic artists and printing companies
3) Soap operas exploring the concepts in the Ulster setting should be commissioned for local TV
thus providing work for local script writers, actors, directors, producers etc. They could also be sold as our leaders traipse round the world promoting the peace process.
*Flags and Protests: Exploring the views, perceptions and experiences of people directly and indirectly affected by the flag protests INTERCOMM & Dr.Jonny Byrne December 2013