Peter Robinson: Parades, flags, bonfires and British symbols are all under endless assault

Many years have passed since those halcyon days when we were told that the signatories to the Belfast Agreement had committed themselves to a future of “partnership, equality and mutual respect”.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Friday, 16th July 2021, 2:17 pm
Peter Robinson, the former DUP leader and first minister, writes a column for the News Letter every other Friday
Peter Robinson, the former DUP leader and first minister, writes a column for the News Letter every other Friday

Yes, they did actually use those last two words.

I recognise that some words have changed their meaning over the years; a few have even been so contorted that it is difficult to conjure up how modern-day usage could remotely derive from the original designation. But, mutual respect, really!

Don’t get me wrong, mutual respect is an important, I would say essential, ingredient in conflict resolution and peace building.

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DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and his deputy Paula Bradley show their support for the Tiger’s Bay bonfire. Peter Robinson says SDLP and Sinn Fein ministers tried "to circumvent the proper legal processes by failing to bring their controversial and cross-cutting proposal to make an anti-bonfire legal challenge to the Stormont Executive"

It’s just that many of those who pledged that it would be the basis of the heralded new beginning have not just wandered from the path but are determined to resist and destroy any vestige of respect that has the audacity to squeeze its way into our body politic.

You’ve guessed it.

Let’s take culture as an example.

The SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party make weighty and persistent demands to expand the many facets of Irish culture.

Some recently made manifest their willingness to go as far as to bring the political institutions down if they did not have their Irish cultural demands met.

Obviously that desire does not, in itself, place them in violation of their Belfast Agreement pledges as they could show equal fervour and vigour in struggling to enhance the cultural expressions of the pro-British community.

Yet, they did not.

Instead, they sought to limit and remove expressions of unionist, loyalist, Orange and British culture.

Parades, flags, bonfires and British symbols are all under endless assault from those who clamour for greater Irish cultural expression.

They cloak themselves in the velvet robe of the disadvantaged, the downtrodden, the humble victim while flaying about with an axe to slay the rights of others.

Their one-sided approach to culture, places them at odds with their own professions and pledges and in violation of the stated Belfast Agreement principles of “tolerance”, “equality”, “mutual respect” and “equal legitimacy”.

It is not for others to define or demarcate the importance or the boundaries of any trait of our pro-British culture. Nor is it their role to control or condition which aspects of our culture are permissible.

The mantra of nationalism seems to decree that everyone has an absolute and unalterable right to exercise and enjoy their right to cultural freedom of expression as long as it’s green and Gaelic.

What is not always clear is whether the aim, of nationalists and republicans, along with that group of watery, whited sepulchres who claim to occupy the centre ground, is simply to poke unionists in the eye or pluck every fragment of Britishness out of this part of the United Kingdom, or both.

The unlawful attempt by SDLP and Sinn Fein ministers to circumvent the proper legal processes by failing to bring their controversial and cross-cutting proposal to make an anti-bonfire legal challenge to the Northern Ireland Executive, shows how obdurate and intransigent they are on these matters.

Who can blame unionists for seeing this as blatant bigotry?

Can anyone imagine the same ministers taking the same action against a bonfire in a nationalist area?

These ministers were prepared to defy the law and the Ministerial Code to pursue a matter directed against an expression of unionist culture when there is case law expressly making it necessary to get executive approval?

The courts properly tossed their case out, but it was a waste of departmental funds expended for crude and squalid political purposes.

Moreover, there should be questions asked about the role of those from the Departmental Solicitors Office who acted for the ministers.

Did they inform the ministers that they did not have the authority to take the legal action without first bringing the proposal to the executive for approval?

If so, then the ministers must repay the squandered departmental money.

The public should not be asked to pay for sectarian ministerial activities taken without lawful authority.

Unionists individually and in community with others, have no lesser right to participate in their community’s cultural life and practices and celebrate their cultural heritage and identity.

Often abuse, discrimination, persecution, harassment and the attempt to deny or bury a culture has the opposite effect.

The best answer to those who would try to diminish our pro-British culture is to join in the pleasurable task of reviving and reinvigorating it.

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