Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Editor's viewpoint: Northern Ireland councillors out of step with leaders

Loyalists protesting around the village area in south Belfast December 17 2012
Loyalist protestors pictured at Belfast City Hall

Our reservations about the effectiveness of the proposed Unionist Forum as a means of resolving the flags dispute seem well justified.

While, like all right minded people, this newspaper hopes that it will prove a positive move in defusing a very volatile situation, the portents are not good. Before even a date has been set doubts about what the forum will do have arisen.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, when pressed, said he wanted to widen the agenda from those he agreed with First Minister Peter Robinson.

And on the very day when the two unionist leaders announced their initiative, their own councillors in Lisburn were bringing the flags issue back onto the agenda by announcing a review of an earlier agreement to fly the flag on designated days only. Effectively they were undermining their own leaders, leaving outsiders to wonder what exactly is going on and do the leaders really have any clout.

If the councillors won't listen to their own party leaders they are unlikely to heed the Crown Office which says that flying the flag all the year around only diminishes their distinctiveness. It was the British custom to fly the Union flag on civic and public buildings on designated days, although individuals could fly it more often if they desired. But this definition of Britishness - even from a branch of the Royal household - holds little sway with the blinkered view of protesters.

Similar myopia was shown by nationalist councillors in Newry who agreed that a play park should remain named after a dead IRA terrorist. More astonishingly they argue this was not a breach of equality regulations nor does it harm community relations in the area.

It was said that when Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize that finally satire was dead. If it wasn't then, it most certainly is now, having been killed off in Newry. While we accept that our council chambers are largely talking shops, those in them sometimes spout dangerous nonsense as, sadly, we have witnessed in recent days.

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