Jamie Bryson: The UK and Irish flags will be treated the same under identity law

Open Letter to NIO minister Lord Caine re Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill

By Jamie Bryson
Friday, 24th June 2022, 3:20 am
The objective of flying British and Irish flags in parallel will undoubtedly give rise to litigation. A provision in the identity and language bill will be deployed by nationalist activists to require parity of esteem between British and other national identities and cultures
The objective of flying British and Irish flags in parallel will undoubtedly give rise to litigation. A provision in the identity and language bill will be deployed by nationalist activists to require parity of esteem between British and other national identities and cultures

Dear Lord Caine,

I write in relation to your contribution in the House of Lords on June 22 2022 in relation to the debate on the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill (‘the Bill’).

Throughout the debate you trumpeted the supposed unionist credentials of the present Conservative government.

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Jamie Bryson wrote an article for Unionist Voice on Saturday June 18 2022. The government said it welcomed the opportunity to correct this "inaccurate" piece

I find that somewhat confusing given that you are referring to the same government who, among other things,

l (i) put a border in the Irish Sea;

l (ii) “subjugated” the Act of Union;

l (iii) consistently deprived unionism of recourse to cross-community consent protections in relation to key decisions;

l and (iv)

in relation to the present bill, the government seeking to enshrine cultural supremacy for Irish language into the heart of a constitutional statute.

As part of this debate, you commented upon the amendment to section 78F of the bill moved by Baroness Hoey. In doing so, you referenced my article on Unionist Voice published on Saturday June 18 2022 and said that the government welcomed the opportunity to correct this “inaccurate” article, and you further went on to claim that my article was based on a “misunderstanding” of the provision.

I would respectfully point out that if anyone is liable to “misunderstand” key issues, it is the NIO and this government.

The secretary of state didn’t even understand he had put a border in the Irish Sea, and the Prime Minister didn’t understand he had “subjugated” the Act of Union.

In relation to section 78F, the provision does not require great understanding. It is relatively simple.

The government seek to insert a provision which requires public authorities to have due regard to inter-alia promoting parity of esteem.

The concept of parity of esteem in relation to national and cultural identity means what it patently says. It requires parity between national and cultural identities. The requirement to have due regard to this therefore plainly means public authorities will be expected to strive to secure such parity of cultural and identity expressions.

I imagine the NIO could not seriously suggest that this provision will do anything other than create justiciable obligations on public authorities, and I would be somewhat surprised if the NIO failed to appreciate how such litigation would be deployed by nationalist activists, seeking to use the ‘parity of esteem’ concept as a means of diluting the primacy of all expressions of British national identity and symbolism, by requiring parity with other national identities and cultures.

You made reference to the Flags Order, seemingly as some kind of escape hatch from the situation needlessly created by the absurd provision in section 78F.

Two issues arise: firstly in the absence of a clear carve out (such as that proposed by Baroness Hoey) the objective of seeking the flying of British and Irish flags in parallel would still undoubtedly give rise to litigation based upon the due regard obligations in section 78F; and secondly the issues of flags was merely one example, it of course goes much wider than that and encompasses every aspect of national identity and cultural expression.

I am surprised the NIO are not alert to the inherent dangers of this broad, litigation inviting provision, not least given the reprehensible absurdity of the NIO paying out thousands of pounds to an employee of Her Majesty’s Government, who was offended by a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen.

I note you had no cogent answer to a similar observation by Baroness Hoey.

As you have publicly raised my Unionist Voice article and on behalf of the government sought to challenge it, I would invite you to write a response for the website, which would be published unedited in full.

In such an article, or alternatively in response to this open letter or in any other public forum, I would be grateful if you could set out precisely what the government say ‘parity of esteem’ means in the context of section 78F, and explain the purported parameters and boundaries of same.

I noted with some concern that despite many bold assertions and superficial generalities in your oratory in the House of Lords on this issue, at no stage did you actually engage with the substance of the point, or refute it in any credible manner, beyond a misguided focus on other legislation in relation to the flying of flags.

It is my sincere hope that in response to this correspondence, you will be in a position to actually engage with the substance of the point and set out the government’s position in a clear and cogent matter in order to prevent any “misunderstandings”, such as that which occurred when the secretary of state misunderstood that a border had been put down the Irish Sea, in substance tearing Northern Ireland out of our precious Union.

Yours sincerely,

Jamie Bryson

Unionist Voice Policy Studies