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Editor's Viewpoint: Alliance shows its mettle in flag vote

Published 05/12/2012

The disgraceful threats that forced Alliance councillor Laura McNamee to quit her home are an intolerable escalation of the backlash against the party following the vote to reduce the number of days on which the Union flag flies over Belfast City Hall.

Yesterday loyalists staged a protest outside a party office in the east of the city. So what despicable action was Alliance guilty of? Simply trying to be a honest broker between unionist and nationalist/ republican blocs on the city council which had adopted typically dogmatic and provocative positions on flag flying.

What Alliance did was courageous. The flag will still fly over the City Hall on the same number of days that it flies over Parliament Buildings at Stormont. Alliance did not sell out but instead brought a sense of realism to a debate which, frankly, should never have been held at all given the all too predictable outcome. At a time when one in four shops in Belfast are lying empty, when the city needs regeneration and is marketing itself as a tourism destination, the city fathers decide that flag flying should be the top of the agenda.

But, of course, nothing excuses the violence which followed the council's decision. The protestors, some of whose actions were no doubt pre-planned, brought shame to the flag in which they wrapped themselves by attacking police officers and council workers and then causing further mayhem in east Belfast. Little wonder that people from outside Northern Ireland who viewed the scenes on their television screens simply shake their heads in bafflement.

Equally baffling was the decision by SDLP and Sinn Fein councillors in Newry to continue naming a children's play park after a convicted terrorist who died on hunger strike. The proverbial blind man could see that that decision would be viewed as provocative by unionists and they have a strong case. One of the guns linked to the terrorist was used in the Kingsmill massacre in which 10 Protestant workmen were killed by republicans.

In spite of the progress made here, it seems that many politicians at ground level still cannot stop prodding each other simply to get a reaction.

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