First, a man is dead, so our thoughts and prayers should be with his family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam – May he rest in peace.
The man in this case was 68-year-old Oswald Bradley, who drowned while trying to remove two Irish tricolours from an island near Bessbrook. Prior to the Irish flags a Union flag had been placed there, and today’s news suggests that Oswald may have intended to remove the Irish tricolours and replace them with a Union flag once again. The Irish flags had been there for some time and several groups, including Sinn Féin, had called for them to be removed, since they were likely to prove divisive in a mixed community and raise tensions.
There are a few loose threads in this story that haven’t been tied up by anyone from any of the political parties, or for that matter by the police. Is it a fact that there was a Union flag in place before it was taken down and replaced by two Irish tricolours? Because if there was, it seems likely that its presence would have promoted division and tension, as did the Irish flags. Why has no one pointed this out – or was there never a Union flag there in the first place? And if there was, why did politicians not speak up?
Danny Kennedy of the Ulster Unionist Party was on BBC Radio Ulster/ Raidio Uladh this morning speaking up. When it was pointed out to him that among others, Sinn Féin had called several days ago for the removal of the tricolours, he conceded that this was true but that “unfortunately their words had not been matched by action”. Is Danny suggesting that Sinn Féin should attend to matters affecting community relations in the Bessbrook area? If the Irish tricolours were having a divisive effect, which seems likely, surely it was the job of the PSNI to get into a boat, sail to the island and remove the flags? Just as they should remove all flags of all kinds from trees, lamp-posts, bonfires and other inappropriate places which merely degrade the flags in question.
The final point that appears unclear is whether Oswald Bradley intended to replace the Irish flags with a Union flag. If he didn’t intend to do so, he was performing the police’s work for them and it cost him his life. If he was carrying a Union flag with which to replace the Irish flags, his death is all the more poignant, in that he believed a deed which would add to divisions between people in the ares was worth risking and in the end losing his life for.
The flag hysteria, everyone said, would end eventually with someone losing his or her life. Few can have imagined it would occur in the manner it did.