In the Irish News (5 December), Tony McCusker, chairman of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, welcomed the decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall to 15 designated days 'in the interests of good community relations'.
I just couldn't believe it. Who has he been talking to and what newspapers has he been reading? Does he really think that community relations are better today than they were on Monday morning?
I have talked to many unionists over the past few days and there is a deep resentment about the decision to remove the Union flag for most of the year. They view the City Hall as the main municipal building in the capital city of Northern Ireland and regard the flying of the Union flag as entirely appropriate. Those I talked to are just ordinary unionists and they do not resort to violence ... but they are angry. Is that what Tony McCusker was thinking of when he spoke of 'good community relations'?
Meanwhile Sinn Fein revel in their triumphalism. They are already boasting, 'We took it down!' I understand that a new edition of the Belfast Sinn Fein newspaper is due out any day and I suspect that this may well be the lead article. Is that sort of tribal triumphalism what Tony McCusker was thinking of when he spoke of 'good community relations'?
Such a partisan intervention by the chairman of the Community Relations Council, albeit packaged in the language of community relations, damages the credibility of CRC.
At first I thought that the statement by Tony McCusker was in response to a question from the Irish News but when I checked the CRC website I discovered that in fact it was part of a statement posted on the 'news and press' section of the website on 4 December.
Along with this statement there were several other recent items, one about a mediation workshop and another about Football 4 Peace International Training. Both of these are commendable initiatives but I was struck by the notable omission!
The chair of the Community Relations Council can find time to comment on a decision by Belfast City Council and obviously regards it as worthy of comment. However it seems that another decision, in another council, on the same night, did not merit any comment. I refer of course to the decision by Newry & Mourne Council to retain the current name for a children's playground which is named after an IRA terrorist.
The decision by the Community Relations Council to comment on Belfast and ignore the shame of nationalists in Newry & Mourne says a lot about the mindset of CRC.