Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Barking like Pavlov's dogs over flags will get us nowhere

The Giro d'Italia takes place from May 9 to 11
The Giro d'Italia takes place from May 9 to 11

Ivan Pavlov would be fascinated by the way politicians here bark at each other, get excited and jump through hoops at the very mention of a flag.

Pavlov won a Nobel Prize in 1904 for experiments on mental conditioning, largely carried out on dogs. If the animals were fed after a bell was rung they would eventually start to salivate at the sound of the bell without any food being present. It was the same with stress and pain, the dogs would be conditioned to cower even when there was no danger.

This week Anna Lo only had to mention flags on the radio and our politicians were off, excited, and aggressive by turns even though nothing had really happened.

Admittedly, Ms Lo put her foot in it by saying that flags and murals along the route of the Giro d'Italia should be taken down by the police. She was speaking off the cuff after Stephen Nolan asked her who would remove them.

Earlier Nelson McCausland, the Social Development Minister, had allocated £145,000 to sprucing up towns along the route.

He sounded almost like Ms Lo, but he didn't mention flags or describe them as sectarian markers of territory, so he didn't trigger the programmed response

In 2007, when elected to the Assembly, she was presented as a symbol of hope by everyone, including the DUP's Ian Paisley, who publicly congratulated her.

The best outcome would be if, instead of barking and salivating like Pavlov's dogs at the merest mention of flags, we found an agreed way of sprucing up the route, as Ms Lo and Mr McCausland have both suggested. Nobody likes tattered flags anyway.

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