Flags. They’re fluttering everywhere at the minute and with the approaching Twelfth celebrations my local town along with many others is slowly being festooned with them.
There was a time when Twelfth decorations didn’t go up until a couple of evenings before. Now, like Christmas decorations, it’s at least two weeks in advance much to the annoyance of a large section of the population, even those of a unionist bent.
Particularly annoying are those flags hanging from electricity poles affixed to those little traffic islands which were designed to help people get across a street or a road safely. I can well understand drivers who complain they’ve nearly mounted one because they were distracted by something which isn’t normally there.
Now there’s a foreign flag in the mix. About this time last year the Gaza flag was flown on our roundabouts and lower down the poles carrying Union flag on top. I’m not even sure if many people recognised this flag of a foreign country in our midst. I certainly found them a distraction.
It’s the nature of politics now that suddenly a country’s flag has become a potent symbol of faith not just in its own country but in our’s too particularly if that country is at risk. It could even end up in our council chambers as you will see later in this article. At this rate it’s entirely possible that Ulster’s addiction to flags will catch on throughout the world. Whose flag will we be revering next year?
The Gaza flag is back again this year – in Coleraine council chamber, of all places. A Republican councillor chose to twin it with an Irish tricolour for a council meeting which was attended by Mohamed Al-Halabi, the international director of co-operation for the municipality of Gaza. How this council can help Gaza is anyone’s guess especially, according to a report of the UN Human Rights Council, some 4,000 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza during last year’s conflict between the two countries both of which could be guilty of war crimes. BBC reporters didn’t exactly dwell on that aspect at the time, putting all the blame on Israel. Haven’t we enough worries of our own without getting involved in this toxic foreign war?
The Irish tricolour, of course, turned out to be like a red rag to a bull in the unionist majority Coleraine council that night. It shouldn’t have been there but then it should not have been atop Stormont either last week. I can’t for the life of me work out why Republicans, who revile Stormont so much, should want their flag which is, officially, a foreign flag hanging from its highest point. What point are they trying to prove? If they revere their flag so much why treat it with disrespect by hoisting it cloak and dagger fashion way up on to a building it shouldn’t have been on.
Ireland is not going to be reunified anytime soon, maybe not even in the lifetime of any of us living in the country today, so why expose the tricolour to ridicule and abuse.? A national flag deserves better.
We aren’t the only ones at war with flags. In America’s deep south love for the once revered confederacy flag still remains. To the black community in places like South Carolina and Charleston it’s a symbol of slavery and white oppression. To the whites it represents the power they once enjoyed before the American Civil War. They’ve never admitted defeat.
Last week 21-year-old Dylann Roof was pictured with a confederate flag. Earlier we saw him on television, about to face the might of the American courts for his role in the killing of nine black people in a Charleston church. Most Americans believe the surreptitious flying of the Confederate flag must now come to an end. Flags have the power to unite. They also have the power to divide. I wonder how future generations will judge us?