Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Waving the flag for shared future

Flags and emblems have a significance in Northern Ireland far beyond what they would have practically anywhere else in the world.

They are often used not simply as signs of allegiance but as weapons to provoke or annoy the rival community. But perhaps there is a glimmer of maturity among our politicians as the Assembly Commission is to tackle the issue of flying the Tricolour at Stormont as part of a good relations debate.

No one should expect the Irish flag to be seen waving above Carson's statue in the near future, yet the thorny issue of flags and emblems must be discussed in a reasonable manner. Politicians talk a lot about a shared future, but there cannot be real consensus in this divided community unless all sides take on board the cultural touchstones of each other. That is especially true given the upcoming centenaries of the signing of the Ulster Covenant, the Battle of the Somme and the Easter Rising. These have the potential to be divisive or part of a communal healing, depending on the lead given by our politicians.

And so it is with the Tricolour. It has to be accepted by all that Northern Ireland is part of the UK until a majority of people here vote otherwise. Therefore it follows that the Union flag is the flag of the country. It should be flown with respect and respected when flown. Sadly it is often used as a tribal marker, particularly around the Twelfth celebrations, and then left to flutter forlornly for months until in tatters. By so doing, those who profess it to be their flag show it scant regard.

Can, or should, the Tricolour be given special status? That is a question which the politicians will have to debate. Could, for example, it be flown at Stormont for the visit of an Irish Taoiseach in the same way that any other foreign flag could be raised for a visiting dignitary? To be even raising such questions is a sign of progress. We have a shared government, why not a shared future and mutual respect?

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