I stopped watching The Nolan Show last night when the young Irish woman began singing in an American accent, but even that half-viewing brought to the surface a number of interesting questions.
- Is it illegal to attach a flag to a lamp-post? Yes it is, says Alliance’s Anna Lo. Billy Hutchinson of the PUP didn’t attempt to deny this; rather he blamed Belfast City Council for daring to have voted that the Union flag should fly only on designated days. Nobody in the audience thought it worth picking up on the fact that evidence of law-breaking is repeatedly on view throughout Belfast.
- Are the police here doing their job, which is to enforce the law? Not if Anna Lo and the report of your own eyes are anything to go by. Illegal Union flags everywhere, but the police make no move to remove them, let alone investigate and arrest those responsible for putting them up.
- Is the protection racket alive and well and living in Belfast? The answer is yes, of course. When Anna Lo suggested that the police weren’t doing enough to counter such intimidation, Billy invited anyone who was thus threatened to come to him and he’d see that the matter was sorted out. No, Viriginia, he didn’t say “Go to your nearest police station”; he said “Come to me”. If I were in a protection money argument, I’d rather have Billy on my side than against me. But I’d rather even more have the police on my side. It doesn’t look as though they are.
- Are murals like those here a common feature in other countries? Sammy Wilson raised that particular hare in an interview yesterday, just after seeming to agree with Anna Lo. Billy Hutchinson picked up on it, lumping our paramilitary murals with the ‘culture’ expressed in other countries.
- Murals-wise, is one side as bad as the other? Not if you’re considering the paramilitary tone and content. Unionist/loyalist murals repeatedly have masked men with guns, threats as to what will happen if things don’t go their way. Republican murals tend to be more international in nature, linking Ireland’s struggle with that of people in other countries. They also tend to feature paintings of people now dead, such as the hunger-strikers, and quote lines aspiring to a better future. This is quite different from murals featuring gunmen and threatening what will happen if the future isn’t the way they want it. ‘Our revenge will be the laughter of our children’ vs ‘Prepared for peace, ready for war’.
All of which suggests that loyalist paramilitaries, not the police, decide about things like flags and protection money here. It also suggests that when loyalism doesn’t like the outcome of a democratic vote, it blames that vote for the violence which it then launches. Things may be better now than twenty years ago but boy, do they still have a long way to go.