The right to express my Irish identity? by Michael Lagan

Sir Jeff visited Talkback on Thursday past to explain why he thought it necessary to appeal to the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to make provision for the Union flag to be flown on all government buildings, 365 days per year in line with what is happening in England, Scotland and Wales.

Sir Jeffrey made much of it being his right to celebrate his Britishness, including his flag under the Good Friday Agreement, the NI Protocol, the Flag Order and the New Decade New Approach Agreement which incidentally specifies three additional days per year, not 365 days per year.  One thing which stood out to me was when Jeff stated – “Irish Nationalists will voice their strong views on how they feel about their identity.”

The problem in this country is not the voicing of our views but the practice – the physical display of our identity which is by no means equal in respect of nationalist and unionist cultures.  For instance, referring back to Talkback, where Mary from Tyrone rang in to the show to suggest both the British Union flag and the Irish Tricolour be flown on government buildings side by side, a very worthy contribution I think you’ll agree, a step in the right direction as it were.  However, Elizabeth of the much renowned ‘Fleg Protest’, yes yer woman articulating “No Surrender” through a broken window, said “Absolutely not” to Mary’s suggestion.  In fact she went so far as to suggest the Irish flag shouldn’t be flown in the North at all.  Equality? Parity?

There are Union flags flown from almost every lamp post in the North every year…literally, and more often than not are left in a tattered and torn mess, making communities and roads look tacky and run down.  Yet a single Tricolour, flown respectfully on a proper flag pole in the village of Carnlough on the Antrim Coast in the Glens of Antrim, above the harbour was ordered to be taken down by Mid and East Antrim Council as it was on council property without Council permission.  The same happened with a 1916 Commemorative memorial stone which was removed in the dead of night at the same spot by contractors hired by the same Council escorted by armed PSNI officers.

Let’s be blunt here. Sir Jeffrey’s agenda on this issue is an attempt to remind nationalists that the North-East of this island is still British even within the context of the Irish Sea border issue.  That it is ruled by the British government and that the Union flag with all its history on this island should be flown officially from British government buildings all year round.  It’s a passive ‘middle finger salute’ to Irish citizens who don’t get to fly our national flag on selected days and in fact, in some places, if we did fly the Tricolour, we wouldn’t have a house left by the end of the night.

There is little parity of culture or even identity in the North. Irish nationalist emblems are suppressed, the Irish Language Act has yet to be finalised and our colours cannot be flown side by side on official buildings with the union flag – and all the while unionists claim their British identity is being eroded.  When you’re accustomed to privilege, any sense of equality feels like oppression.

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