Every year, paramilitary and national flags are unfurled for the summer parading season. There are still some flags tied up to lampposts, in the middle of winter, torn and tattered by the wind and the elements.
Everyone agrees that to leave flags up all year is disrespectful. No other country would permit their national flag to be treated in such a way.
Flying exclusive flags in the first place does nothing for the local community. It drives away investment, infrastructure, and those who wish to deal with the very real problems in the neighbourhoods.
Interestingly, at the time of George Best’s funeral, it was good enough for groups to take down flags, so that Belfast didn’t look bad in the eyes of the world. Well, then, it should be good enough to take the flags down for good.
People have to realise that the eyes of the world are always upon us.
The fact remains that, outside your own private property, no one has the right to erect flags and bunting anywhere you like, without regard either to the environment or the common good.
The abuse and misuse of national flags create a climate of fear and intimidation. There is strong popular support for action against such displays.
The message is clear. Disputes over flags should first and foremost be addressed through local dialogue. But where this proves unsuccessful, there is the backstop of enforcement.
There is a clear challenge for all the statutory agencies: the police, Roads Service, Housing Executive and District Councils, to take action as well as co-ordinate their activities.
Indeed, there is a new strategy for dealing with flags in the Government’s new community relations policy, “A Shared Future” (pp. 23-29). This new approach is more than capable of recognising and accommodating traditional cultural celebrations. If anything, there is the potential to place them on a much more secure footing.
What we can’t have is a continuation of a laissez-faire attitude, where we get eyesores from individuals and groups who fail to honour their pledges of flag erection and removal.
I’m working to ensure a more co-ordinated approach is realised.