A welcome ruling on flying flags, in a troubling legal case

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland yesterday issued an important ruling.

In a unanimous verdict, judges upheld a lower court that had rejected claims by a nationalist woman that flying the Union flag on designated days about a courthouse was discriminatory.

The ruling is welcome, as is the fact that no judge so far has been persuaded of it. But the very fact that cases like this are coming through, and keep coming through on a range of issues, typically funded by legal aid, is troubling.

Imagine a scenario in which the complainant had won, and had persuaded the court that flying the Union flag denied her equal treatment.

What would then have needed to happen, and urgently, would have been legislation to ensure that the flag of the United Kingdom can fly above official buildings.

There is no guarantee whatsoever that even a Conservative and unionist government would have the stomach for any such legislation.

Of course on this occasion it has not come to that, or anything close to it. But there is a wider trend to keep pushing on matters that properly fall within sovereignty and to confuse parity of esteem and equality of respect and traditions, with matters that are not shared.

Northern Ireland’s governance is not shared.

The Irish government is of course a co guarantor of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, and it has particular responsibilities, within the three strands. The misuse of the concept of rights to encroach on sovereignty is a matter on which the UK government should be ever vigilant.

Given, however, that this current government has signalled to the wider world that under no circumstances, not even in the scenario that republicans have pulled down devolved government until they get certain demands, will they do anything to upset Irish nationalists, there is alarmingly little indication that the government will show such vigilance.