Capture The Flag
Do you know this game? Two opposing teams, each with their own flag—secured in their home “base”, attempt to capture one another’s flag and return it to their own territory for the win. During the game, “enemy” players can be “tagged”—immobilized—or “put in jail”.
Sounds like fun, right?
Well, it is when children are playing. However, when adults with polarized cultural and political views play, the enemy is a real enemy, real people are put in real jails, and the words tagged and immobilized take on a different, more permanent meaning.
The latest Stormont Agreement, made last Christmas, tackled a wide variety of socio-economic issues regarding the northern six counties of Ireland. Progress was made. However, on the ever-contentious issues of who can fly what flag where, and who can have a parade and where , nothing solid emerged.
This may sound like a minor issue to those unfamiliar with the history of the north of Ireland, but for all those who live there, it is of great importance, and the failure of all parties involved at Stormont to reach an agreement on flags and parades could well lead to civil unrest in the near future.
I’ll talk more about parades in my next post. For now, the flag issue. Those in the north who consider themselves republicans generally favour the Irish tricolour or one of its variants. Those who consider themselves unionist or loyalist prefer , amongst various Ulster flags, the British flag, properly called the Union Flag but more commonly known as the Union Jack. The tricolour (green, white and orange) is meant to symbolize the native Irish (green) the largely Scots-Presbyterian population encouraged by the British to settle in Ulster (orange) and the white between the two is intended to represent peace between the two cultures. ( A variant, sometimes associated with militant republicanism, replaces the orange with gold.)
Now, on to the Union Jack. It’s a familiar symbol around the world (the sun never sets on the British Empire. It also occasionally shines on a dog’s arse), but what of its symbolism? The Jack has a blue field with the red cross of St. George (patron saint of England) edged in white, superimposed on the diagonal red cross of St. Patrick (Ireland) which is superimposed on the diagonal white cross of St. Andrew (Scotland).
Wow. That’s a lot of super-imposition.
Now, what sort of flag you prefer to fly is a matter of freedom of speech. However, common sense dictates that you would be ill-advised to fly a Nazi flag…well, anywhere, really, or a Confederate flag in an African-American community. Or a red flag at a bull. Both republicans and loyalists in Ulster commonly fly their flag of choice in areas where they are the majority. Being the overwhelming majority, unionists have become accustomed to flying the Union Jack wherever they please. And so it was that in 2012, when the Belfast City Council voted to fly the flag from city hall and other council buildings only on 18 designated days, all hell broke loose. Unionists rioted in the streets, leading to the injury of more than 100 police officers. It must have been bewildering to them (as it was to me) to see the loyalist community being mob-hosed, tear-gassed, and shot at with rubber bullets. Because they (like myself) were used to seeing that treatment heaped upon the predominately Catholic nationalist community whenever they demanded that their civil rights be upheld. As with all things irish, there is no easy fix to the problem with flags. However, for those determined to see the Union Jack fluttering in all its majesty eight days a week, without fear of consequence, there is a place where one can do such a thing.
Hint: it’s across the Irish Sea.