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Editor's Viewpoint

Flag row is least of Northern Ireland's problems

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The graphic shown on BBC Breakfast that represented Northern Ireland with the flag of the Irish Republic (PA/BBC Breakfast)

The graphic shown on BBC Breakfast that represented Northern Ireland with the flag of the Irish Republic (PA/BBC Breakfast)

The graphic shown on BBC Breakfast that represented Northern Ireland with the flag of the Irish Republic (PA/BBC Breakfast)

At times we in Northern Ireland have to question whether or not we have our priorities right. Two haematology patients at Craigavon Area Hospital, who were diagnosed with Covid-19, have died in recent days.

However, you could have been forgiven for believing that the most important story in the country yesterday was how the national BBC Breakfast programme managed to feature the Irish tricolour to represent Northern Ireland in graphic illustrations about travel restrictions.

The First Minister Arlene Foster swiftly demanded an investigation, branding the "gaffe" disgraceful. Even though the programme presenter Naga Munchetty apologised for the error at the end of the programme, Mrs Foster said that the BBC's new Director-General Tim Davie should carry out an inquiry.

This is not to downplay the gravity of the BBC's error. It is crass for the national broadcaster not to know the appropriate flag for a constituent part of the UK, and an apology was indeed merited.

The flying of flags occupies a totemic presence in Northern Ireland, as the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall was unforgettably demonstrated in disturbing scenes witnessed in 2012. Insofar as a country's flag continues to remain a sort of visual shorthand for its identity, the act of disrespecting that flag is effectively to disrespect the country.

Therefore it is easy to understand why a slight on the flag can make the situation go downhill all too quickly.

Fundamentally the BBC's mistake was just that: a mistake. The BBC Breakfast programme is highly pressurised and gremlins can, and occasionally do, creep in. However, this is not a matter of life and death. Unfortunately the current pandemic most certainly is.

With children now back at school, and with all the worry that this creates, as well as the threat of a feared second spike of the virus, it would be regrettable if the sort of unanimity we experienced during the long lockdown was allowed to dissipate.

Belfast Telegraph