Daithi McKay seemed to irritate Wendy Austin yesterday. The Sinn Féin MLA was on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Talkback’ explaining why he had asked for an inventory of all statues, paintings and symbols in the buildings and on the grounds of Stormont. It was, he said, to establish how many of those were devoted to unionist leaders and figures from the past, and how many to nationalist and republican leaders and figures. Wendy sounded a little tetchy as she asked why he couldn’t have counted them himself, wasn’t it a safe bet there were more unionist representations but so what, people were more concerned with bread-and-butter issues, weren’t they, like health and education and jobs?
Nice try, Wendy. But you see, most people realize that the public are capable of thinking about more than one thing. It’s possible to be concerned about the education system and health provision as well as caring that cultural artefacts represent all major groupings in the community. And yes, John Hume’s da was right to say you can’t eat a flag, but then why would you want to even try? As McKay pointed out, visitors to Stormont are frequently taken aback by the overwhelmingly unionist feel to the place. Outside of the Sinn Féin offices, is there even one painting or statue that unambiguously celebrates the nationalist/tradition in this part of Ireland? I’m as tight-fisted a blogger as you’ll find, but fifty pounds to the first person who can direct me to three such artefacts.
There are those who denounce Daithi McKay as a trouble-maker, a stirrer-up of antagonism who should leave well enough alone. But then, that’s what a lot of people used to say about John Hume in the early days of Civil Rights agitation.