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UVF flags reminder of how far Northern Ireland still has to go


Among other problems, summer in Northern Ireland is usually a time for controversy about flags. The problem is illustrated on just one lamp-post on the Sydenham Bypass, where flying just above the Union flag and the Northern Ireland flag is a flag for the UVF.

That organisation brutally murdered Catholics and, despite its claims, it certainly didn't defend anyone effectively. Now, it has descended into criminality.

We can understand the context against which young people got sucked into unnecessary violence and carried out acts that they would not otherwise have done. Too many died, or went to prison, for flawed causes, sometimes inspired by irresponsible language from politicians, but what they did was still wrong and unjustified.

Some of their leaders recognised this and played a constructive role in society and the peace process, but we still have an issue with a lack of humility from paramilitary groups that, often literally, got away with murder.

Sinn Fein continues to insist the IRA's campaign was necessary and justified. Despite the fact that nothing was achieved through violence that could not have been achieved through peaceful means, sadly many people are taken in by republicans' distortion of history.

The UVF and other loyalist groups continue to mark out territory as a way of asserting control, which rests on an implicit threat of violence. Their actions undermine our constitutional position and blight our community.

If the police won't deal with inappropriate flags, or flags flown to intimidate, there is an onus on unionism's political leaders to argue that they must come down.

Equally, where nationalist flags are flown to oppress, rather than unite, political leaders in those areas must speak out.

Ultimately, it is high time that our political leadership matured and, while respecting the current constitutional position, agreed new symbols that we can all embrace.

Flags are being abused when they fly to assert the ownership of an area by one identity or tradition. By accident, or design, Northern Ireland's place in the UK is secure for the foreseeable future, but with great and improving relations across this island and these islands - despite Brexit.

We should start appreciating the benefits that flow from that and make the most of it, for ourselves and our children.


Holywood, Co Down

Belfast Telegraph


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