Equality is used to try to block state exercising basic powers

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A nationalist woman yesterday lost her legal challenge to the flying of the Union flag at courthouses in Northern Ireland.

The woman claimed she was being denied equal treatment by having the flag hoisted to full mast on designated days. Her lawyers claimed that the flying of the Union flag defied a commitment to ensure equality of identity and aspirations for the two communities in Northern Ireland. It was suggested no flag be flown over courts.

It is welcome that this case has been rejected, but troubling that such actions are even coming before the courts.

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If any such case, perhaps in a related situation over symbolism, ever succeeds in future there must be new legislation from Westminster to combat it.

This is a republican tactic that will only grow in coming years: to change symbolism or signage that is different to how it would appear in the Republic of Ireland so that there is no visible sense that Northern Ireland is part of the UK. It is why an Irish language act is a key part of the republican strategy.

It ought to be unthinkable that it is not permissible to fly a national flag on a state building within that country’s territory and it is probably unthinkable in almost all countries. Here in Northern Ireland a legal bid to achieve that outcome has failed but it is not inconceivable that one day it might succeed perhaps after majority Stormont support for such a course.

The military covenant, for example, does not fully apply in NI. And this year it emerged that ex police or military applicants are not considered eligible, on the basis of their past service, for Border Force officer jobs in Northern Ireland as are such applicants in Great Britain. London should have intervened to over-rule such a change, and then challenged the ‘equality’ basis behind the distinction with the rest of the UK.

The use of equality to challenge the leeway to decide basic internal matters that are the right of all sovereign nations to decide must be challenged at every turn.