Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A solution to the flags issue in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, particularly the Greater Belfast area and East Belfast in particular, has witnessed protests accompanied by rioting for the last five weeks in response to a Belfast City Council decision to fly the Union flag (the British flag) over city hall only on some 15-20 designated days per year rather than 365 days per year as had previously been the practice. This decision actually brings Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. But the loyalist working class, backed up by elements of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in East Belfast and initially by the mainstream unionist parties are determined to show their Britishness by behaving in a thoroughly un-British manner. 

As has been pointed out at the Slugger O'Toole website (see comments) the American South also has a flags problem. Ever since the beginning of desegregation in the mid-1950s the Confederate flag has been used as a symbol of racists opposed to integration and equality. When pressed, in order to be politically correct, they claim it as a symbol of cultural pride. But in reality, as in Northern Ireland it functions as a territorial marker in the South warning blacks to keep out.

South Africa also had a flag problem. When the two former British colonies of the Cape of Good Hope and Natal and the two former Boer republics joined together to form the Union of South Africa in 1910 they used the British Union flag as their flag. This was objectionable to Afrikaner nationalists who saw this as the flag of their imperial oppressors who had conquered their South Africa. So they came up with a new tricolor flag consisting of an orange stripe, a white stripe, and a  blue stripe. In the middle white stripe they placed three miniature flags: the Union flag and the flags of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic/Transvaal republic. This then became the official  South African flag in 1927. 

The Irish tricolor of the Irish Free State/Republic of Ireland was an attempt to do what the South African tricolor did. It has an orange stripe to represent the Protestants. But the Protestant unionists of Northern Ireland never saw the flag as their own and insist on referring to the orange as gold--although it is clearly orange. 

When South Africa finally gave equality and political power to blacks with majority rule in 1994, a new flag symbolized the change. The old tricolor was considered to be the flag of apartheid and white minority rule. Now that nationalists have been granted "parity of esteem" under the Good Friday Agreement it may be time to design a provincial flag for Northern Ireland that would contain symbols that are acceptable to both unionists and nationalists or that belong to neither. Examples would be a flag with the Red Hand of Ulster and the green harp. This flag could then fly over the city hall and other public buildings 365 days a year while the Union flag is limited to designated days.

No comments:

Post a Comment