Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

It is time for sense to prevail on flags issue

When it seems that progress is being made broadly in Northern Ireland, a large number Belfast councillors are again embroiled in sectarian rivalry.

This time they are at odds over the flying of the Union flag at the City Hall, and also at the Ulster Hall and the Duncrue project.

Unfortunately, in our society where tribalism so often rules, there is nothing more divisive than flags and emblems.

The Equality Commission proposed a compromise of flying the Union Jack on designated days, and not every day, which the unionists demand. However, instead of accepting a reasonable way forward, Sinn Fein and the SDLP have ganged together to support a motion preventing the Union flag being flown at all.

Sinn Fein claims naively that this would make the City Hall a neutral place, and the SDLP is also naive to think that this would help the Council to share the City Hall with all the people of Belfast.

This proposal, if passed next month, will alienate the majority of the population from the City Hall and will cause more trouble. Inclusion demands compromise, but a total victory for one side amounts to exclusion.

The Alliance Party is in the unenviable position of holding the balance of power and whichever way it votes, the outcome is bound to offend one side or the other. Sadly, the main power blocks in the City Hall, including the unionists, are indulging in party games, instead of backing a compromise. Some Belfast councillors seem to live in a parallel universe where their own narrow party interests are placed ahead of the common good, specifically so on this issue.

Such cynical and blinkered behaviour does not impress the ordinary citizens who are asking why the councillors are wasting time and energy on such tired old issues, when they should be concentrating on bringing jobs to Belfast and on helping the city's beleaguered retail sector.

This is a time for grown-up politics, and not for kindergarten antics. There is still time for common sense to prevail.

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