Belfast Telegraph

Friday 21 November 2014

Northern Ireland needs fresh efforts on flags

Ossie Bradley died in Bessbrook pond on Monday night
Ossie Bradley died in Bessbrook pond on Monday night

In most countries of the world flags are objects of national pride – a pride shared by the vast majority of the citizens. But in Northern Ireland with its divided loyalties and centuries old civic schism, flags are often used as object of provocation.

Attempts to find proper protocols or laws governing the flying of flags, including where and when that should happen, have repeatedly floundered, most recently during the Haass talks.

Yet the tragic death of 68-year-old Ossie Bradley, who lost his life when swimming across to an island on Bessbrook lake to remove two Irish tricolours, shows the need to find a solution to this festering issue.

Even Sinn Fein admits the planting of the tricolours was a provocative act and obviously stirred emotions in Mr Bradley, who had lost a relative in the Kingsmills massacre of 10 Protestant workers in 1976. Mr Bradley had campaigned earnestly for justice for the relatives of those killed.

He was a man of strong unionist beliefs but was respected by all sides throughout his local community, and as the only man to survive the Kingsmills shootings, Alan Black, says: no flag is worth a life.

There were other provocative incidents in Coleraine, where three homes flying the Union flag were targeted by vandals, who also caused extensive damage to one woman's car. These people had every right to fly their flags.

Although there are supposed to be protocols in place over the flying of flags on lampposts, these are widely flaunted and the flags are used to designate territory and cause offence in many cases.

Finding a solution is a massive problem unless there is a sudden change of mindset among political and community leaders.

As it stands, we cannot even have a common agreement across the province on the flying of the Union flag on Government or local government buildings and amenities. That shows how difficult it will be to control the flying of flags on private property or along roadsides.

Yet it would be a fine legacy for Mr Bradley if politicians redoubled their efforts on this issue and it would also restore civic pride in flags if there were laws passed on their display which could be enforced by the courts.

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