Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Community Relations Council and the Union Flag

Tony McCusker

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.


  1. What terrible scenes we have witnessed from Monday onwards; the first: the removal of the constitutional union flag from the central civic building of NI’s Capital has gave birth to the 2nd: real frustration & anger among unionists and regrettably some of that anger from a minority of loyalists (most of the protesters are being peaceful –let’s not forget that!) is spilling over into violent acts on the streets & the alliance Cllrs are feeling the brunt of it. This overspill of violence is wrong and should not go unpunished. It is not the way forward – the ballot box is!

    On the other hand one must state that the Alliance Cllrs in Belfast, and further afield, have effectively painted targets on their own backs for the hardcore elements who have no regard for law & order, as result of their “good & shared relations” position in removing the flag – if they didn’t see this coming, then, as Sammy Wilson said: they’re out of touch!

    Consequently they have now strained relations between communities, not strengthened or improved them! Are they that naïve?

    Alliance should have done the right & commonsense thing - and that was to leave the union flag be in its’ rightful & appropriate, non-offensive (except, I think, approx. 7 people according to the consultation paper in BCC) place: on top of the City Hall!

    What would’ve happened on the streets (including republican) if they done that? …probably nothing! Now there is going to have to be a major effort by all in repairing the damage done.

  2. A quote from Sharon Carson:

    "Sure it's only a FLAG I hear them say.

    Sure it was only the ULSTER in the Ulster Defence Regiment.

    Sure it was only the ROYAL in the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

    Then it was the CROWNS in the court houses they didn't like.

    Then our PARADES offended them so we get rerouted all over to please them.

    Our ORANGE HALLS and CHURCHES offended them so much so they burn them and vandalise them.

    The POPPY offends them.

    MEMORIALS to our war dead offend them so they deface them.

    A MEMORIAL to workmen who were slaughtered by IRA SF gang offends them so they try to destroy it.

    A HOMECOMING parade for the Royal Irish Regiment offended them .

    Singing the national anthem at Windsor park offends them so they can't attend .

    The list is endless and all I hear from SF IRA is equality and lets tolerate each others society and beliefs .

    ....yeah its only a FLAG!"

  3. What of the 11 republican run councils that don't fly the Union Flag at all. When are the Unionists in those councils going to have their equality and the Union Flag flown on the designated days. After all the shinners all always telling us they are about equality. Over to you Martin.

  4. A good & valid point made by a catholic in response to an article, in the Belfast Telegraph, about tourists deciding not to book a stay at the merchant hotel now because of protests & trouble:

    "I strongly criticise the Belfast City Councillors for all this disruption to the city and to Northern Ireland. It is said that the decision of the removal of the Flag was a democratic decision, I say it wasn’t. This matter was too important, it was too risky and the timing could not have come at a worse time and the Councillors knew this !

    I blame all this rioting, all the disturbance and all the loss of image and loss of money on the Councillors of Belfast and they should all feel ashamed to have ruined Christmas not only for the few shopkeepers that have not gone under this year but also for the normal person on the street and all around Northern Ireland as it affects us ALL !!!

    In my eyes, this topic is too important that it should have been put to a referendum for the people of Belfast not to a few Councillors who all have their own agendas and just want to gain votes and profit in other ways. The matter was rushed through and not enough consideration was given to both sides. As for 17 out of 365 days, that to me is not democratic and I say that as a Catholic.

    I want peace, and peace can only be gained by respect and trust, not by point scoring! Let the people of Belfast decide what they want and how they want this implemented, give us a referendum on this matter and this decision can then be respected by ALL !"


    I do think that the NI media spolight, with deep scrutiny & criticism, needs to be put upon Belfast City Council now, and fully upon the political party in particular - SF I believe? - who put this issue of the flag on the agenda in the first place, and deciding that Monday 6th Decemeber council meeting was a good time to vote on this highly sensitive issue, knowing full well, how the vote was going to go & that it would provoke a considerable & angry response from unionists across the province. The media are letting them off the hook it seems & are rather seeking to stigmatise the protestant community en masse as well as the unionist politicians.


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