Belfast Telegraph

No return to flag-waving partisan politics

The youthful Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast Niall O Donnghaile began well by making the right sounds and gestures on inclusiveness. Now, however, he has riled unionists by re-arranging the portraits in the Lord Mayor's office.

Some Royal pictures have been put away, a portrait of the Queen and Prince Philip is now behind the door, and pride of place is given to nationalist symbols such as the Irish Declaration of Independence and a picture of the United Irishmen, many of whom - ironically - were Protestants.

People can claim that every Lord Mayor is entitled to adorn the office with symbols of his or her culture. Others point out that Councillor O Donnghaile is no different to Alex Maskey who had the Irish tricolour in his office when he was Lord Mayor.

However, there is an element of "in your face" about such cultural posturing. The unionists have hardly been any better at times, and the initial reaction of the Deputy Lord Mayor Ruth Patterson in appearing to snub Councillor O Donnghaile set the wrong precedent, even if she blames it on a hearing impediment.

Sinn Fein, who are never behind the door in seeking a political advantage, are watching carefully the outcome of a costly Equality Impact Assessment on memorabilia in the City Hall, and no doubt the flying of the Union flag will be another target.

All sections are entitled to their cultural symbols, but there is also an onus on everyone to treat the other communities with respect.

Flags and emblems are potent sources of friction, but there is much more that should be occupying the minds of all politicians including inward investment, the lowering of corporation tax, and the creation of new jobs.

The image of Northern Ireland is not being enhanced by the current posturing in the City Hall and it sends out the wrong messages. It is time for all Councillors to stop indulging themselves, and in the words of David Cameron "get on with it." Tribal confrontation is part the past, and should be kept there.

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