THERE is little doubt that most unionists feel angered and betrayed by the decision of Belfast City Council to remove the Union Flag from the City Hall where it had flown every day for a century. There was no need for such a decision.
Things could quite easily have been left as they were. Instead, it only became an issue when it was pushed by nationalist parties who crow loudly about their commitment to parity of esteem and a shared future, but whose actions reveal a very different agenda.
Their ill-conceived proposal to remove the flag, except for designated days, passed with Alliance Party support, is having dreadful consequences. The genie is out of the bottle, and we will all struggle to get it back in again.
As the dispute rumbles on, I have been reflecting on the significance of the Union Flag.
As a Protestant and a unionist, it goes without saying that I love this flag. I want to see it flying from our public buildings. We have a fine tradition of flying it on our houses and churches and in our streets around the Twelfth of July – a tradition that really ought to be revived. But this great and noble flag should never be used in a threatening or abusive way. Indeed, such misuse runs contrary to the symbolism and dignity of the flag itself. In its present form, it dates back to 1801 when Ireland became an integral part of the Union. The flag comprises the flags of St Andrew, St George and St Patrick, and it therefore represents the union of our peoples under our constitutional Protestant monarchy established in 1688. It therefore speaks to me of civil and religious liberty for all. One hundred years ago, our forefathers fought to maintain the Union because they cherished these liberties, and they feared, quite rightly as it turned out, that Home Rule would be Rome Rule. When I see the Union Flag proudly waving in the breeze, I thank God that I am a citizen of a free nation. I wish to retain those freedoms, and I do not wish to deny them to any of my fellow-citizens. All I ask is that they are not denied to me.
Councillor John Finlay