Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Daithi McKay: GAA flag debate is timely, but unionists must learn to respect tricolour, too

Equality of identity should never be sacrificed in the interests of perceived better community relations, writes Daithi McKay

Published 02/12/2016

The tricolour flying at Croke Park. But the issue of flags and anthems must be two-way street
The tricolour flying at Croke Park. But the issue of flags and anthems must be two-way street

The GAA has done some fantastic work in recent years in reaching out to unionists and others in the north that are unfamiliar with Gaelic games and culture. Quietly and effectively, it has built a lot of bridges. I have the utmost respect for those who have made a very valuable contribution to our collective community without seeking credit or kudos.

Earlier this week GAA president Aogan O Fearghail flew a kite that will spark off much debate amongst Gaels.

"In the future, if there are new agreements and new arrangements, we'd be open-minded about things like flags and anthems, but not in advance of agreements," he said.

It is, of course, for the GAA to have that debate and it alone. However, the issue of flags, of identity, of inclusiveness, cannot be restricted to groups such as the GAA.

If unionist politicians want to see changes at GAA games - and there is to be a debate about that - then, surely, there has to be a wider debate about flags throughout the north, especially at Government and civic buildings?

I grew up going to GAA matches in rural north Antrim, a can of Coke and a packet of Farmer Brown crisps in hand, watching the action through wire fencing while the adults hung their arms over the top. The masses would be collectively glued to the scoreboard at championship matches, when the point difference was low and the time left on the clock even lower.

My great-grandfather played in goals for Antrim when they won the Ulster Championship in 1913 and was a proud and active Gael in north Antrim in the early 1900s.

The sports, the flag, the anthem and the culture are part of my DNA and the identity of many across the north. However, local councils and, indeed, Parliament Buildings in Belfast, have never reflected this identity appropriately. Indeed, for many years, in many places, it was ridiculed and demonised and that intolerance of any steps to accommodate an Irish flag, or even an Irish word, still lingers strong.

Last week we saw the Communities Minister Paul Givan kicking a ball about a Gaelic pitch and even scoring some points. That has been welcomed widely, but it says a lot that we still see this as a huge step when the minister responsible for sports kicks a GAA ball.

When Gregory Campbell held a reception for All-Ireland holders Tyrone in 2009 it was seen as significant. Should ministerial participation in such events really be seen as equally significant nearly 10 years on?

Northern Ireland flag submissions - by Belfast Telegraph readers. Taking the idea that no matter what new flag is proposed it will cause fury with at least one set of mouth breathers on either side how about this radical design that will infuriate bigots on both sides equally? Perhaps they can finally be united through flag hatred? Submitted by Mick McMenemie
Northern Ireland flag submissions - by Belfast Telegraph readers. Taking the idea that no matter what new flag is proposed it will cause fury with at least one set of mouth breathers on either side how about this radical design that will infuriate bigots on both sides equally? Perhaps they can finally be united through flag hatred? Submitted by Mick McMenemie
Northern Ireland flag submissions - by Belfast Telegraph readers. Here's my effort - from Ken Wilson
Northern Ireland flag submissions - by Belfast Telegraph readers Flag represents Northern Ireland on the Island of Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. Would be a great flag ;) New Northern Ireland flag proposal - submitted by Harry Fitzsimons
Henry Hill- 'My idea is based on the Cross of St Patrick, a flag often used in all-Ireland contexts but also associated with Ireland's place in the Union'
Northern Ireland flag submissions - by Belfast Telegraph readers
'Probably the only flag that both sides could possibly come to love. Perhaps the colour scheme is a bit biased.' - Conor O'Neill
Northern Ireland flag submission from Derek Heaney, Ballymartin, Co Down
Northern Ireland flag submission
Northern Ireland flag submission from Niamh-Ann Brown
Northern Ireland flag submission from Shane McCaul
'We all love green and white in this country. We have a Northern Irish heritage that is distinct from Britain and the rest of Ireland; that's the ring in the centre.' - Dean Douglas
'This is based mainly on the cross of St Patrick, which can be respected by all communities.' - Susanne Daniels
'From left to right, it's the history of NI, starting with common roots, protestant over catholic authority, meeting in the middle (of the triangle) and ending with a blue sky of possibilities in the future.' - Greg Fretz
Northern Ireland flag submission from Barry, featuring a T-Rex, Mr Peanut, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Darth Vader's Tie fighter and Sammy Hagar of Van Halen fame
'Something for everyone' from Bernie
'Two Red Hands of Ulster together framing the future.' - Tom Cosgrove
Northern Ireland flag submission from Patrick Mc Caffery, Belfast
Northern Ireland flag submission
Northern Ireland flag submission from Lew Milligan
Northern Ireland flag submission from Ewout Lamé
"The Ready Saltire. No apologies for the cheese-(and onion)-y pun." - Dave Regan
Northern Ireland flag submission
Northern Ireland flag submission from Chris Connolly, Washington D.C
Northern Ireland flag submission from Wayne
Northern Ireland flag submission from Hilary Reid
Northern Ireland flag submission from Chris Connolly, Washington D.C
"The symbols from top clock wise are: Red Hand of Ulster, Irish Harp, crown, and shamrock" - Preston
"A white and golden cross of Saint Brigit's placed over a blue field of Saint Patrick." - Rodney Tyson Jr
"A white and blue cross of Saint Bridget placed over a field of Irish green." - Rodney Tyson Jr
"A potential and literal representation of Northern Ireland's identity, a British Ensign twinned with Ulster provincial colours." - Rodney Tyson Jr
Northern Ireland flag submission the 'new dawn'
"This places a Scottish St Andrew’s Saltire on an Irish Green field. It is also the flag adopted by the 2018 Northern Ireland Funlympics" - Steve Porter
"Just about sums up this place" - Mark Lynch
By Stephen Donnelly, Armagh
From Ryan Tiernan, Belfast.
By Robert Morrow
"So both sides could get on in Northern Ireland" - Gary Armour
"No controversial symbols or colours yet includes a symbol that is acceptable to all sides, the Celtic Cross, bearing old colours of St Patrick's Blue, St Andrew if you like, and the blue-green rush of St Bridget's cross." - Michael Yore
Northern Ireland flag submission from Bill O'Donnell, Missouri, USA
"St Patrick's saltire (as used on the Union Jack) with an Ulster red hand. Simple, but effective, and it stands out" - Charles Morgan
Northern Ireland flag submission from Gary Armour
Northern Ireland flag submission from Bill O'Donnell, Missouri, USA
Northern Ireland flag submission from Steven Dick
Henry Hill- 'My idea is based on the Cross of St Patrick, a flag often used in all-Ireland contexts but also associated with Ireland's place in the Union'
James Martin - 'I am a citizen of Earth and feel it should be appealing to everyone as nobody can argue with being from Earth. Unless aliens invade in an Independence Day fashion'
New Northern Ireland flag proposal - submitted by Daniel Herwich
Suggestion from Ryan McGowan
My name is Richard Weir and attached is my submission for a new NI flag
New Northern Ireland flag proposal - submitted by Declan Murphy
New Northern Ireland flag proposal - submitted by Gerard Catney
Submitted by James Byrne: 'The idea here is the traditional colours of democracy forming the tricolor (much like the French flag). The hand of Ulster is present, but instead of presenting the palm in an obstructive gesture, it's cradling a green olive branch (in the same shade of green as the ROI tricolor), framed beneath the country's national flow, the Flax. The entire flag is framed in white, a colour of peace.'
I am German-Ulster Scots-American and love vexillology. here's my submission for a new Northern Ireland flag. - Ken Scherer
My design is inspired by that of the Scandinavian countries, however, I thought it more appropriate to feature a stylised Celtic cross in the design. The colours are very simple - a blueish green to represent Ireland, with red and blue lines symbolising Britain and echoing the style of the Union Flag. The fields of white represent peace and forgiveness. - Samuel Cardwell
New Northern Ireland flag proposal - submitted by Grahame Gallagher
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
New Northern Ireland flag proposal - submitted by Kevin Latimer
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
New Northern Ireland flag proposal - submitted by Brendan Harkin
New Northern Ireland flag proposal - submitted by Thomas Brownlee
New Northern Ireland flag proposal - submitted by John Gorman
Dark green is for the mix of orange and green of the republic of Ireland and the pink/purple colour is for the mix of the union jack the rest is the red hand of ulster. - Submitted by Emma Sheeran
Submitted by Ian James Parsley - "There is a tendency when designing potential new "Northern Ireland flags" to make them complicated. In fact, if any new flag is to be widely accepted, it has to be simple yet distinctive. The attached combines the two colours of St Patrick (the more modern emerald and traditional azure) on a diagonal cross (as per the flag of the Order of St Patrick and also of St Andrew). "Some dislike the direct placement of blue on green, but I argue it is light enough to work and that it is precisely this placement which gives the flag its distinctiveness. It would immediately stand out from any others - I would imagine it would even come to be known as simply "the emerald-azure".
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
New Northern Ireland flag proposal - submitted by James Lynch
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag
Some of our reader submissions for a new Northern Ireland flag

The elephant in the room when it comes to flags is the lack of any Government recognition - at Stormont or council level - of the Irish tricolour.

Eighteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement and the enshrining of people's right to be Irish, as well as British, that is a indictment on us all.

No one wants to see another flag dispute - far from it. However, there is an onus on unionists to show that compromise applies to everybody.

Local people, equally, have the right to identify as being British. There should be no reluctance in recognising the two primary identities of our community.

Local authorities - particularly those that have a majority of nationalist and republican members - should take the initiative in this regard and show that British and Irish flags can fly side by side on civic buildings.

This would be a reflection of identities, not sovereignty, and would be in the same spirit as when Alex Maskey introduced both flags to the Lord Mayor's parlour in Belfast back in 2002.

If adopted, this would be the first time that the Irish flag has ever officially flown from civic buildings in the north and it would expose how exclusive and one-sided flags and emblems policies at Belfast City Council and Stormont presently are.

Not every issue has to be narrowed down to the issue of sovereignty.

Just because Government buildings reflect both British and Irish identities does not mean that there will be a united Ireland in the morning.

It is not like a game of paintball, when the team that plants their flag at the target spot wins. All it would show is a generosity and a maturity of Government towards those who identify as either Irish or British.

Flags have been flown from council buildings reflecting the Orange Order tradition as well as the British Army in the north. Therefore, given the fact that the precedent has already been set for flying flags to reflect different traditions within the community, why should the Irish tradition be any different?

In the face of unionist opposition many nationalists have adopted a position of neutrality when it comes to the flying of flags, rather than pursue equality for the Irish flag and, therefore, their Irish identity. Equality of identity should not be sacrificed in the interests of perceived "better community relations".

Neutralising identity, creating neutral flags and carving out some sort of catch-all, anodyne space is nothing more than papering over the cracks.

Flags should never be left duct-taped to lampposts to disintegrate into blackened rags. It's an eyesore and embarrassment in many places.

Surely there would be an argument for many of those in positions of community leadership to discourage that practice if they can point to the Irish flag being respected and displayed appropriately at councils and civic centres in a shared context?

There has already been some criticism of what Aogan O Fearghail has suggested from prominent players, such as Paddy Cullen (Dublin), who uses the example of the New Zealand rugby team.

"Look at the All Blacks. Imagine they were told to do away with their haka. That's part and parcel of your culture. You just can't do away with that."

In my view, such a change is not going to happen anytime soon.

The GAA has a right to debate its policies on flags and anthems in the future, as the president articulated earlier this week.

Firstly, however, we need to see a more open-minded approach to the flying of the Irish flag from unionist politicians and also a more open-minded approach to flying both the Irish and the Union flags from nationalist and republican politicians in the north.

  • Daithi McKay was Sinn Fein MLA for North Antrim from 2007 until August this year

Belfast Telegraph

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph