Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Councillors still to learn their lesson

This newspaper has repeatedly spoken out fearlessly — regardless of which political party or religious affiliation was involved — against politicians grandstanding on issues which could only raise the tension on the streets.

We rightly criticised unionist politicians for distributing thousands of leaflets prior to the |contentious decision on flying the Union flag only on designated days at Belfast City Hall which helped to demonise the Alliance Party. That was wrong and could have led to serious injury to and the death of members of that party.

Given the widespread disruption caused by the flags protest, surely it was not too much to expect Belfast councillors to be more circumspect when other potential banana skin issues arose. But it seems that lessons have not been learned. While all parties agreed to light up the City Hall in various colours to mark occasions like St Patrick’s Day, |Orangefest and Gay Pride, a proposal to similarly celebrate the Queen’s birthday and Remembrance Day was foiled by Sinn Fein.

Essentially this is a trivial issue. While it was |encouraging to see councillors of all shades agree to six designated days, the other two occasions could have been accommodated with little comment from the public. Admittedly it would have been better if those days had been initially proposed at committee stage like the others, but surely there should be enough maturity among councillors to let the amendment through.

We have seen the economic, social and policing disruption caused when feelings boil over on the streets, but we had reached a stage when the flags protest was losing its momentum.

Now there is a potential focal point for new |division to manifest itself.

Symbols are important in this community, but the development of the peace process to create a truly shared society is much more relevant to ordinary people and should be the priority of every politician from parish pump level to the highest post in the land.

The message is still not getting through.

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