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Power is about to shift…

3 Mar

As I write this, 70 of the 90 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly Election for 2017 have been announced. And it makes for an interesting glimpse into a changing country. Sinn Féin hold the largest number of seats with 24, and the SDLP have 9. The DUP have 18 and UUP 9. Taking Aliance out of the proceedings that gives a nationalists a five seat lead.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Disappointingly the country appears to have shunned the opportunity to usher in a change in our country’s leadership – the embittered, stubborn, starkly green and orange parties Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Party are still on top. And its hard to see how anything is going to change while that remains the case. Northern Ireland is a shared country whether you like it or not. And the only way to move forward is through mediation and negotiation and compromise.

But then I’m a broadly liberal leftist long lapsed from a background of unionism, so its easy for me to say. I don’t hate my fellow citizens because of their religion or their politics or what language they wish to converse in or what way they define their national identity. But it matters to many others out there.

Without a change, I can’t help but wonder if the assembly will not just be brought down again? And if it does, then surely direct rule from Westminster is inevitable? And to do that would be foolhardy, because that will give many militant republicans the excuse they need to reactivate a campaign of violence against the perceived British threat in the country, and take us all back to pre-1997 times. Its not as if the leaders of the two biggest parties actually give a toss about the Northern Irish people anyway, and our democratic views. The DUP backed Brexit in spite of the majority of Northern Ireland voting to stay IN Europe, and Sinn Féin still refuse to sit in Westminster for ideological reasons, which means they aren’t actually helping to represent the people either. A right golden shower the lot of them.

And I’m sitting here thinking about something that I haven’t actually heard voiced yet. But what happens if Sinn Féin come away from this election as the largest political party in Northern Ireland? Ignoring their catalogue of cover-ups (notably with regards sex abuse cases) and their power-hungry control of republican ideology in Northern Ireland (there’s as many kinds of republicans as their are unionists), we’ve never had a republican party as the largest in NI. The balance has always (by design more often than democracy) lain in the hands of the unionist parties, and for decades the unionists and loyalists have been happy because they’ve benefitted in things like employment, funding, rights etc. The republican voice has been silenced (once upon a time, literally), oppressed, which in turn has only helped to stir up support.

Right now we’re at loggerheads, with both sides bashing each other where possible, positioning themselves as ‘us’ and ‘them’. They put down propositions made by the others because of the potential for small victories. They turn simple things into massive issues. They allow prejudice to dictate policy and propaganda does the rest.

Whats scares unionists is what will happen when the power finally switches. It seems rather improbable that a republican dominated political arena is going to sit back and allow loyalism to continue its triumphant marches and shouting and brow-busting. That call for a referendum on a united Ireland can’t be far away now, and that scares the unionists because it might actually go through. Most of us don’t want to leave the EU, and joining up with Ireland is a sure way to ensure we don’t. Britain doesn’t actually care about Northern Ireland. We’re a population of 1.8million out of some 64 million across the islands. We’re a massive drain on resources, particularly bearing in mind our habit of fighting on a regular basis, incurring vast policing costs etc, every time we have a “celebration”. Will the republican brothers and sisters treat the unionists with open arms, and remind them that Ireland has already embraced Protestant culture as symbolised in the orange on the Tricolour? Sadly, probably not. Instead, the sort of hostility that has been shown to many of them is likely to be returned. Its the way of the wild. Captive turns captor. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, not actually how you were treated…

I’m slightly scared for people like me. Those of us who sit somewhere between the ideologies. Not necessarily undecided, but who are aware of our backgrounds, and the complex web that we were born into without say. Northern Ireland is occupied – the politicians decided to remain as part of the UK, not the people themselves, and so a border poll would be interesting, to finally give all of us a say. We aren’t all going to get our way though, and as Brexit has most recently reminded us (and indeed the US elections), when voting is split, things can get nasty. I don’t want to return to violence. I don’t want to be scared of visiting friends across sectarian divides, or to be picked out because I don’t see eye to eye with official lines of whatever persuasion.

Its time to stop being complacent. Time to learn to moderate, to co-operate, and to stop wallowing in the past. Think about the people.


Who am I? (Part 1)

3 Dec

During the annual summer tensions in NI this year a relative asked me why I was so “against [my] own people.” That is, why so critical of the protestant/unionist population that I ostensibly hail from? The answer at its most basic is simply because I don’t feel that the so-called representatives and leaders of unionist, loyalist or protestant people actually do speak for me and my views. The more comprehensive response is probably based in a tortured sense of identity.

A statue of William III in Carrickfergus. Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Symbol of protestant resistance in Northern Ireland – a statue of William III in Carrickfergus. Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

The exposure to ideology I had growing up was almost exclusively protestant/unionist. The rhetoric of ‘Ulster says No’ and ‘1, 2, 3, DUP’. Orange bands on 12th July. My father worked for Bill Henderson, the owner of the Belfast Newsletter and former Ulster Unionist politician. My grandfather’s shop in Derry had been firebombed by the IRA and left a lasting impression on the family. This was the world I knew.

But I was also removed from much of what went on. We lived at the foot of the Craigantlet hills during my formative years in a fairly isolated house. Trips into town weren’t overly frequent, and I only recall a couple of instances of evacuation owing to bomb scares. My bit of East Belfast wasn’t known for its tension.

Once the quiet lane behind our house was on the news as someone was shot in his car. I remember the police coming to the door asking questions, telling him we’d heard nothing then telling mum we’d heard all sorts of things. I’ve no idea if we actually heard the shooting or not.

By the 1990s we had moved into the Garnerville housing estate right beside the RUC training barracks. A mighty wall of green corrugated iron with cameras all round faced our living room. The sound of their band woke us many a Saturday morning. I took it all for granted that this was how things were.

Somebody else was shot in the alleys behind the new house. An internal loyalist affair.

I accepted security checks in shops – the queues outside Debenhams as bags were searched. I didn’t think twice about the presence of soldiers on the streets, or the fact that the police carried guns. They scared me, but I wasn’t a law breaker so I didn’t worry excessively.

At some point in my teenage years my attitude shifted. I questioned the assumed unionism I had been brought up in. I watched nightly news reports of tit-for-tat attacks between Catholics and Protestants and knew none of us were safe. If I was stopped in the street by thugs I was screwed either way. I couldn’t sing any tribal anthems. I felt unsafe watching the bonfires. I didn’t like the hatred of Catholics expressed by many.

My Christian development changed how I thought. I became wary as I devoured Jack Chick publications and attended a Brethren church. Both fountains of intolerance and hate. But I also had a Methodist minister at school. My BB and youth club was at a large pentecostal church. Our Scripture Union group at school was a real mix of backgrounds.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

I began working with a peace group – the Horizon Project. A cross-boarder, cross-community group aimed at bringing different young people together. I made friends for life here. I saw an alternative future. We were basically all the same. No thoughts of violence. Plenty of hormones.

I read Augustine. I refused to join the school’s Combined Cadet Force (CCF), a way of preparing school boys for the British military. Instead I ended up head of our Social Services unit, working with disabled kids, elderly folk and the like. I outed myself as a pacifist, a conscientious objector.

I am working class protestant by birth. As a child of the 80s we had the upper hand. The population majority. The majority representation in government. Historically unionism had maintained control through gerrymandering. Internment had targeted republicans almost exclusively, ignoring crimes committed by loyalists. While I couldn’t fault the police chasing bombers and gunmen I still cannot condone the prejudiced persecution of the wider republican community and the comparative lack of pursuit of the loyalist bombers and gunmen.

I am a Northern Irishman. I hold a British passport but I am not British. I am happy to be called Irish because that’s more like what I feel. But given the option (and this should be widely recognised officially) I am Northern Irish. This country is heavily influenced by cultures of Ireland and Britain. Since before partition NI has felt different from either parent nation- but with overlaps. Ideology means many here refuse to accept the impact that that heritage has had on shaping them, how much they carry, to the point where they shout you down when you speak up for that inheritance.

I’m a modern day mudblood. In my veins courses Irish catholic heritage, and Ulster-Scot protestant heritage. I’ve recently taken a DNA test as part of my genealogy research, and I’ll be interested to see what the science says about my family’s make-up. Most of my Scottish line I’ve traced back to Ireland. My grandfather used to joke (at my grandmother’s expense) about her having Spanish forefathers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the results lean very heavily towards an Irish ancestry, with perhaps a little Scottish. I’ll share the results in the new year when they come back. Maybe they’ll suggest something else, but right now I feel it would be disingenuous to disown my Irishness.

We are products of the society we are born into. We don’t make a choice in that – nature does that for us. Most of us inherit the politics and religion of our parents. Some of us will move away from that faith, mostly into atheism, but few will shake their politics. As a nation we need to learn to move past this original sin mentality that keeps us fighting each other, dividing us up into ‘us’ and ‘them’. We cannot keep brow-beating this generation for the mistakes of their parents and grandparents. We cannot treat every republican or unionist as if they are militant with a grudge to spend. We cannot repeat the errors of the past.

Twelfth bonfire, Newtownards. Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Twelfth bonfire, Newtownards. Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

I acknowledge the injustices perpetrated by my perceived community in the past. I understand the feeling of disenfranchisement by the perceived other community. I understand why people on both sides got caught up in militant struggles, defence and retaliation. I understand we are not a healed society. But we cannot continue like that. I’ve heard such anger and bitterness from both protestants and catholics this last year – the fears of the other haven’t gone away, with both firmly believing themselves to be right and the others bitter and vengeful. Its scary to listen to. If only they could hear themselves.

I listen to lines about how the Twelfth celebrations are an example of pageantry and aren’t sectarian. Then I see the bonfires becoming adorned with flags, election posters and other weighted symbols and they become totems of hate once again and I cannot be a part of that. Tribalism and sectarianism only cement division and mistrust. They weaken us. They allow us to be manipulated by those in power. For a Christian order, Orangeism stands out against Jesus’ command to love our enemies (Matthew ch5 v44).

I believe in dialogue. Listening. Trying to understand. When someone tells me I’m wrong I’ll listen to their argument, I’ll try and research the areas I’m faulty in. And either I’ll reaffirm my position or it will change. Being able to stand up and say, ‘Yup, I was wrong’ is important. I want to understand, to move forward. I’ll listen to any politics, any religious exchange, and I’ll stand and ask questions of myself and others. Testing one’s faith, one’s understanding, is important. I have broken my own rules, my own prejudices repeatedly, and been happier for it. I’m not betraying my ‘people’ because tribalism is something imposed on us by societies and the xenophobic. I’m being true to myself.

Bonfire of Hate?

12 Jul

This time last year I was sitting at the top of Scrabo Hill in Newtownards, photographing the 11th July bonfires from a safe distance. Part of an attempt to engage with the symbolism and iconography of this country and the cultures that surrounded me. A year later and I feel that I’ve travelled far. I’ve watched Orange Order parades, walked past the Ardoyne Shops unhindered en route to the Crum, cycled down the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, begun exploring the Bogside in Derry, stood silently in front of UVF and IRA graves, had coffee with a Sinn Fein politician on the Falls, run an interview with LAD and criss-crossed Belfast more times than I ever would have dreamed possible growing up.

For some this may seem rather basic, unexemplary, mundane. Others will see me as some sort of traitor for even daring the breathe in the same air. For me it has been about attempting to understand the divisions on a personal level.

"Coastal Beacon" [Groomsport].  © 2014, Robert J.E. Simpson. All Rights Reserved

“Coastal Beacon” [Groomsport].
© 2014, Robert J.E. Simpson. All Rights Reserved

This year I chose not to go out and photograph the bonfires. With the solitary exception of an unlit one in Groomsport when I happened to be passing through last week, it didn’t feel right. The increasing visibility of election posters, racist slogans, flags and dummies for lynching, made me feel too uncomfortable even to venture out to document the occasion.

When I was a kid I loved 11th night bonfires for being just that – big bonfires. I’d grown up in the countryside and it was fairly common to see our father light a bonfire for practical reasons around the garden. Scared as I was of fire’s destructive capabilities, I was also captivated – gathering the wood for fires when we camped in Tollymore Forest Park and watching it burn into the small hours was one of life’s great simple pleasures.

The colossal bonfires that are constructed each July were to us simply bringing it to a larger scale. I don’t recall seeing flags and slogans and so on, but I was probably too small to notice, and we seemed to always arrive after the fire had been lit so wouldn’t have seen flags burning anyway. There wasn’t at that age a sectarian bone in my body. I didn’t think about the reasons the fires were lit, merely that they were awesome spectacles. I do remember the searing heat and being surprised that they were allowed to build them so close to houses – I always expected the fires to topple and the houses to go up in flames too.

That changed as I got older, and now I’m so aware of the negative associations I find myself conflicted and appalled. I could accept the bonfires as a tradition and as a spectacle if they were better controlled – if they weren’t used politically. I don’t want to see flags or pictures of Anna Lo being burned. I don’t want the builders to construct them from poisonous tyres. And I don’t want to see the local fences being pulled apart just to facilitate this brief iconic act.

The fire nearest where I live had two gigantic tricolours (the Irish national flag) flying off poles on top of it during the last week. I don’t understand the need to be this provocative. I also don’t think anyone else sees the irony in picking the flag out for destruction, and yet willingly flying it for several days in the middle of a protestant/loyalist/unionist estate. I noticed them long before I noticed the Union Jacks flying elsewhere (and lower down).

I’ve said it before, but the Orange Order are not going to convince the majority that they are not a provoking bigoted organisation until they put stricter binds on things like this.

Northern Ireland’s problems aren’t really about religion either. It is broad politics. Attitudes are taught and learned from an early age. The contempt is accepted without question. I cannot imagine that most could articulate sensible reasons why they are at loggerheads with those of the ‘opposite’ community. And nor can they see the plank in their own eyes before removing the speck in yours.

I can’t stand July. Over the years I’ve had objects thrown at me, sectarian abuse shouted at me, intimidating songs sung at me, roads blocked, petrol bombs thrown outside my house – and all by those supposedly from “my own people”. I’m going to be staying in this year on the 12th too – photographing last year was risky enough. Fortunately if you’re careful and time it right, it is largely possible to avoid the activity around the 11th and 12th – escape the worst of the excesses and only deal with the aftermath. If it wasn’t I’d have to move.

Decommissioning LAD – NI’s Satirical Warlords On Temporary Ceasefire?

21 Apr
Anonymous victim in Alan Clarke's 'Elephant'

Anonymous victim in Alan Clarke’s ‘Elephant’

On Friday afternoon known dissident republican Tommy Crossan was shot dead in West Belfast near an industrial estate in broad daylight. The murder of Crossan prompted condemnation from both first and deputy ministers.

I’ve already written this weekend about the numb response paramilitary killings have received in the past in Northern Ireland in relation to Alan Clarke’s 1989 film for BBC tv – Elephant. I argued that the Clarke’s elephant is very much still in the room, and that we need reminded every once in a while to engage. Decades of violence here have turned much of the population into cold beings. While we continue to get used to universal condemnation of violence, the political statements do little to bring an end to it on the streets of Northern Ireland.

Satirical commentary? 

On Friday, satirical group LAD (Loyalists Against Democracy, aka. LADFleg) responded to news of the killing with the Tweet: “BREAKING NEWS: Criminal shot dead by other criminals. Moral of story: Live by the gun, die by the gun”

A lengthy engagement with the message followed on Twitter, and on Facebook (before the Facebook page was itself decommissioned – more on that shortly). Criticism seems to be largely two fold – i) that LAD are glorifying violence and being disrespectful to the family of the deceased, ii) that LAD were labelling (all) republicans as criminals.

LAD's Easter 2014 logo

LAD’s Easter 2014 logo

On Saturday LAD subsequently posted an apology of sorts [LAD say it is a statement] on their Tumblr. The original tweet was made by a LADmin frustrated by the regular occurrences of the shootings. The group accepted that their choice of wording was not to everyone’s taste, and that not everyone liked everything the group posts.

At the same time the Facebook account was deactivated, and their Twitter announced:

To all intents and purposes it appeared that LAD had finally fallen foul of public opinion. But was this an appropriate response?

With regards to the criticisms several points can be observed. I don’t for a moment take the “offending” message as being one that condones violence. Rather it picks up on a well-known piece of cautionary advice “those who live by the sword, die by the sword”. If one lives in a world of guns and violence, there is a probability that the guns and violence may be delivered on you.

I shouldn’t need to, and have no desire to be an apologist for LAD, but some of the responses given are blinkered and betray the inevitable bias of the posters.

The inference that the post referred to all republicans is a weak one. The tweet happens to refer to two republicans in THIS instance. The gunman who murdered Crossan is undoubtedly a criminal. Murder is against the law in both the UK and Ireland, and most of the rest of the world (I’m assuming there is some distant place where it might just be considered okay). Crossan himself was already labelled a criminal through his involvement with the Continuity IRA: he had been given a ten year sentence previously for his involvement in an attempt to murder an RUC officer.

While some republicans might view the RUC as a ‘legitimate target’ for an assassination attempt, the taking of another’s life is still murder, and still a crime. Plotting to facilitate this provides a mens rea which would be used to aid a conviction. In this specific circumstance, both Crossan and his murderer are criminals. The LAD statement is accurate, and appropriate.

There are no doubt family members of Crossan who will be horrified by what has happened.

The henchman's family mourn in "Austin Powers" (1997)

The henchman’s family mourn in “Austin Powers” (1997)

There’s that wonderful scene in the Austin Powers movies where the killed henchman’s family are told of their dad’s death at the office after being crushed by a steamroller, and the ramifications for those who aren’t directly involved. A comedy moment which deftly approaches an impact of criminal behaviour we seldom think about. I had a chance encounter with the sibling of a murdered terrorist a few months ago, and they expressed to me their horror at the world their loved one had been wrapped up in, but their love and pain over the death of their kin. Regardless of how much they disapproved of the terrorist actions, they had still lost a family member in the process. Everyone has a family. How sensitive one should be is a matter of debate.

With anything controversial, or close-to-the-bone, one needs to be aware that somebody will be offended every single time a comment is made. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. One man’s evangelist, another’s oppressor etc etc. As a satirical group it can be taken as read that some will disagree.

Queen of Bleeding Hearts

My own twitter profile was hit up again by the problematic David Todd again on Sunday (David you may recall created a fictitious account in order to pursue LAD last year before being exposed).

David complained “They also used the music from the song sung by Elton John @ Princess Diana’s funeral on Fri”, with the link supplied taking us to Elton singing his revised version of Candle in the Wind at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997.

LAD used the tune for a video in honour of Jamie Bryson’s political ceasefire “Nando’s In The Bin” and it goes like this:

So what?

Am I meant to take from David’s message that he thinks that LAD shouldn’t be using that particular song for a parody because Elton used it to pay homage to Diana following her death? Does that make it sacred? Absolutely not. Candle In The Wind has been parodied before (there’s a number on YouTube) and was itself a reworking of a 1973 song produced for Elton’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road LP about Marilyn Monroe. Arguably by reworking the song already, Elton was parodying himself.

With the metaphor of a candle being snuffed out before its time fresh in the mind, it seems a rather apt choice for a aspirant politician who ended his career before it even began. Quality of lyrics and production aside, it works. You don’t have to like it, but it works. No tune is beyond re-appropriation and parody.

The apology posted on Saturday by LAD is a rare moment of self-awareness for the group. So often presenting a façade of immunity to criticism, it betrays a human element to the LAD collective’s make-up. But in seeking to explain and apologise LAD also seems weaker, less confident. There is a change brewing within LAD, a refining of approach and ideals, resulting in the apparent hiatus in operations .


Marilyn Monroe – beyond parody

In the week that Jamie Bryson claims to have given up the fags politics, and with an election just weeks away, one would expect LAD should be at its peak, fighting back against the deceptions within government, and the skulduggery on the streets. A rise in dissident republican activity over the last year has left an uneasy feeling in the country, exacerbated by the continued presence of the more extreme brand of loyalism of which Bryson was merely a part. Top that off with a rise in racist abuse and attacks in light of increased immigration, and Northern Ireland is fast becoming a melting pot ready to boil over. Silly season is just around the corner.

Amidst this background, I fired some questions over to LAD via email which they have responded to below. This is not an interview as such. I have not (as far as I am aware) met any of the LADmins. I have been given names by others of purported members of the group, but do not have proof which would allow me to ‘out’ them, assuming I was the sort into ‘outing’ anyway.  This is not exhaustive. It does however shed some light into current LAD thinking, and some of the reasoning behind their temporary satirical ceasefire.

(I am not a member of LAD, nor am I to my knowledge, friends with LAD members. I am sympathetic to Northern Irish political satire. I believe LAD treads a fine line which it has on occasion crossed. Such are my prejudices before I begin).


RJES: Why take down the Facebook page at all. I thought you never gave in?

LAD: We needed a couple of days to regroup. A LADmin resigned, our comments section was been overrun making moderation difficult, we needed to discuss internally where we go from here. We are approaching a busy period in are wee country and we need to be ready for that. The organisation, while striving to be professional, has up to this point has been a bit ad hoc at times. We need to fix that. We need this period to finish our book and plan the future of LAD.

Isn’t the deletion of comments and pages not as bad as the likes of David Todd and his unreliability as a source?  [I meant this with regards the sudden deletion of the entire Facebook page, but could have applied to other comments etc]

We have always moderated the comments section on are pages, we have deleted comments and blocked people previously with no fuss. We have a ban list that runs to pages. We’ve always had a strict set of unpublished rules. There are certain words for example that from day one have resulted in an immediate ban. We also have filters on the page that mean if certain words are used they don’t appear on the page. It’s responsible administration, something that Michael Copeland and other MLAs could learn from given some of the vile sectarian filth that they allow to go uncensored.

The blog post you published suggests the tweet about criminals killing criminals was ill-judged and in anger. Do you regret posting either the tweet or apology?

No. Having posted both we don’t regret either. A couple of LADmin do have some reservations but we are working through where we go from here.

Is there a limit to what is acceptable?

If I was to answer honestly I would have to say no there are no limits to what is acceptable for us to say. I would however ask people to exercise their own caution at times, just because you agree with one thing we say doesn’t mean you will agree with another. Sometimes personal opinions, or opinions shared by a minority of LADmin end up in the mix, but LAD is a collective and these things may happen from time to time. We have been accused by certain individuals of being ‘republican’ which is as far from accurate as it’s possible to be and have made this clear on numerous occasions. As a collective we have a mix of various political viewpoints and a general disdain for our local political representatives. The one thing we have in common is support for the Good Friday Agreement and a revulsion of anything that brings terror to our streets. Fundamentally though we like to make people laugh and hopefully in the process stimulate debate.

Why back down over the criminal killing tweet?

I don’t think we have backed down on the tweet, just try to clarify that it was said in frustration and that LAD have no wish to see this type of violent activity on our streets. If anyone had bothered to read our Twitter timeline we echoed the sentiments of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir who tweeted “Shame on those who bring death to Belfast streets at Eastertide. They represent no-one but themselves and have no place in our great city.” Some people who claim to be long time supporters of our page took it upon themselves to state that we were “glorifying” and “justifying” murder which is absolute bollocks. Over the course of the evening we issued a series of tweets to that effect. At one point someone asked us if we were “against the killing” and we replied “Of course we are “against the killing” FFS. Violence breeds violence – ergo, STOP ALL VIOLENCE.” Our position on this is irrefutable.

Typical LAD imagery

Typical LAD imagery

Why announce a hiatus on the run up to an election? Isn’t this the time you should be most active?

As we explained we need a break to develop our plan for the future and to work on a couple of intensive projects. People forget we took a month of last June in the run up to the marching season. We’ll still do stuff on Tumblr, YouTube etc, when the mood takes us but the Facebook page is incredibly time consuming. Our local politicians and would-be politicians should not feel any sense of relief.

How long is the holiday going to last?

Till are uncle Ivan discovers we are squatting in his caravan in Portrush

How is the “retirement” from “politics” of Jamie Bryson going to affect the LAD cause?

It won’t Jamie was a puppet of LAD we grew tired of him and withdrew our support for him after he was approached by special branch and asked to infiltrate us (allegedly). He is an irrelevance and it’s a shame that the likes of the UUP gave him and Frazer any credence during the Haass talks. The fact that a talking gorilla raised more in election funding than him is proof of his total lack of support.

What is the relationship between LAD and Koko the Gorilla?

The people behind Koko are fans of LAD they asked for our support and we obliged, but there is no direct relationship. We are assured that the money raised will go to a good cause.

Are you ever concerned that you are going to goad your opponents too much and incur their wrath?

Not at all. What’s the worse they could do?

What is your current position with regards the PUP?

The PUP had become irrelevant and have used the Fleg and associated protests to bolster their support in the hope of winning a few seats, which they won’t. They should have better vetting of candidates, they have a few badduns standing for them. Although we do like Dr John Kyle.

You’ve mentioned the resignation of a member of the admin. Is there then a sense of conflicting ideologies within the organisation?

We don’t see LAD as an ‘organisation’ but rather a collective and with any collective people will have different opinions. It’s these different opinions that fuel the process. It’s healthy. But the ideology of LAD is quite clear to those who create it. However people are free to walk away. It’s not like the UVF. There is no buy out fee.

You have come in for criticism before (by a number of people including myself) for your casual attitude towards some of the people you name in discussions, and with regards to media law. Will a restructuring attempt to address and solidify this? Will more care be taken in future?

People may be surprised with the amount of care that’s taken. Sometimes we get it wrong but people must be aware that if you post sectarian and racist material on the internet you leave yourself wide open for scrutiny. It amuses us when people gurn about being banned by Facebook and so on then you look at the type of stuff they post and it’s absolutely disgusting. Thankfully the authorities seem to be taking this kind of stuff a bit more seriously now.

LAD is also quite happy to ask questions and name individuals within the political sector, when they feel there is something untoward going on. And yet in the face of repeated questioning, they refuse to reveal their own identities. Why is LAD so reluctant to reveal its “editorial board” (for want of a better phrase) publicly? Does it not concern the group when those who are not LAD are named as being part of the group?

Anonymity allows us access to people and places that we would not get if we identified ourselves. The fact that idiots name individuals with no connection to LAD as being LAD demonstrates an unhealthy obsession with us. When some individuals have been misidentified in the past we have assisted them in providing information to the police.

Does LAD not think their cause would be aided by having a named public face(s)? Does satire not work if writers’ and editors’ identities are known?

We do have a named public face. Billy Smith. Satire works in many different guises.

[I was asked to elaborate on a question…here repeated and expounded] You have come in for criticism before (by a number of people including myself) for your casual attitude towards some of the people you name in discussions (sometimes naming individuals who are potentially vulnerable, unprotected etc.); and also for a casual attitude with regards to media law (eg. publishing names, or images contrary to media legislation

– I refer to an incident involving CCTV images some months back; the criticisms with regards your use of parody). In LADs restructuring, will there be a attempt to be more considerate with regards the data that the group publishes – particularly with regards private individuals not aligned to public politics? Will LAD be paying closer attention to the legal limits on their published material, but with regards to individuals, and the parody/use of copyright material?

We have sought legal advice and been advised we are operating within the law. We respect the law unlike some.

Were permissions and licenses ever sorted with the Last December debacle?

We were ill-advised. It’s still a murky area but frankly we couldn’t be arsed with pursuing it. It was a Christmas song and it would have taken weeks to sort it out so what was the point. We were offered a lot of help but politely declined. The whole thing left a sour taste in our mouths. There are some bitter nasty people out there. As it turned out we were able to donate a tidy sum to a local charity in the end. So alls well that ends well.


An Uneasy Ceasefire

One question in particular was skimmed over in response. I suggested LAD might be concerned about incurring the wrath of their opponents, to which the response was “What’s the worst they can do?”. I believe that the problem here, and where the bulk of criticism of the collective should be aimed, is within the use of personal information and publication of data and claims about individuals via the (now closed) Facebook page in particular.

I talked in my previous blog on LAD about the criticisms that were levelled at LAD by some who alleged LAD to be using bullying tactics. In an incident over Christmas, one woman whose shop was promoted by LAD later alleged via the LAD pages that she received unwanted attention from anti-LAD individuals as a result. Tactics of physical intimidation could (when one is dealing with terrorists, terrorist supporters, and paramilitary types) lead to actual violence and criminal damage. Threats of police action in the face of this may not always work, and there is no reason why LADmins would not be targeted similarly if their identity was known. Goading the enemy is fine, but less wise if he has a gun, ammunition and your address. As much as we want to move away from a weapons based society, the threat is sadly all too present and real.

LAD said via email: “We didn’t take the [Facebook] page down because of that tweet we used the opportunity it presented to take a break”.

LAD has had its mettle tested. Constant accusations of being a republican organisation have taken their toll, resulting in a near compulsion to reiterate time and again that LAD is critical of all of those who attempt to undermine the Northern Ireland peace process. Their comments on Friday were specifically critical of republicans, which in turn incurred the criticism of republicans who while approving of any and all criticisms directed at loyalists and unionists, do not appear to appreciate criticism of their own broad community.

Journalist David McCann described them members in an interview in February as “smart” and “professional”. In spite of the use of some of the phrasing of Fleg Protesters, LAD have frequently been accused of being elitist or middle class. Mocking turns of phrase, poor spelling and the like have likened LADmins to a school teacher, or educated group. Perhaps there is truth in this. Their support of the Good Friday Agreement is a clear indication of their distance from the hardline elements in Northern Ireland’s social-political divide. If LAD are predominantly middle class, and with a  moderate outlook, it may explain both the need to reaffirm their stance, and compound the frustrations and being shouted at by loyalists and republicans.

LAD’s ceasefire is temporary. Their Twitter remains active and so does their Tumblr and blog. Moving away from the vitriolic space of Facebook seems to be a wise move for practical reasons. With a book promised for the near future, there is a hope of LAD becoming more professional – slicker, more informed, and whilst no less controversial, protected by due diligence and common sense.

Their influence continues to spread (over 17000 ‘likes’ on Facebook before the account was put on hold). A form of citizen journalism functions via LAD’s outlet – individuals who would normally stay silent, seem prepared to speak out and supply information because of the humorous trappings of LAD’s media empire. Raising awareness of illegal flag posting, illegal removal of election posters, picking apart what political figures say when they think nobody is paying attention. This is all valuable work. Were LAD better controlled there surely would be scope for a branded television or radio series. But then, maybe that would be too mainstream for them (although speculation persists that certain members are already successful named journalists).

Ultimately, one comes back to LAD’s own tweet as a sage warning for the group going forward. Live by scrutiny, die by scrutiny. If one continues to put politicians, activists and individuals under the microscope, demanding answers, and picking apart their faults, then one cannot complain when the readership or those under scrutiny choose to direct the microscope the other way. With the elections and marching season upon us, it could be an interesting few months.

* My previous piece on LAD from December 2013: Us And Them And L.A.D. – Northern Ireland’s Satirical Warlords

[Addendum 22.04.2014: The LAD member that resigned – “Winston Smith” (evidently not his real name) reached out via Twitter and PM on Facebook because he wasn’t happy with how LAD were spinning the situation over his choice in their responses to my questions. He asked to talk ‘off the record’. I offered him a right to reply (if he wished to exercise it) and told him I would publish his response (with his permission). Smith has given his side of the story on his own blog here.
There are a number of points of concern contained within. Again there is a suggestion that LAD is bullying even among its own members, and the threat of exposure of identities is not lost on me considering the anonymity issue is one I have raised repeatedly.
While I appreciate Smith’s account of his reasoning, as an outsider I retain my own reading of the comments as outlined above. If posting comments on a murder while the family is at the scene one wonders when is appropriate to post?
I asked Smith yesterday if he would answer some follow-up questions in response to his own blog. If he does engage further I will add a separate entry in a new post.]

New York says NO

15 Mar

Just yesterday the press reported that 6 members of the PSNI (that’s the Police Service of Northern Ireland for those that don’t know) would be marching alongside representatives of the Irish policeforce in the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade. But at the same time, pressure was being put on the representatives to boycott the march because of a ban on gay/lesbian/bi and transgender groups taking part – something which had caused New York’s very own mayor to boycott the march.

This would have been the first time the PSNI had taken part in the march, and was seen as an important marker of mutual respect between the two Irish forces played out on an international stage. Its worth noting that the Garda and PSNI regularly collaborate on policing matters on the island. Membership of the PSNI currently sits at over 30% catholic.

And then this evening that invitation was rescinded (one imagines at a point where said officers were either in transit, or preparing to jet off to New York).

Screenshot_2014-03-14-23-16-20The climb down (see posting from their Facebook group on the right) states “While the decision to invite the PSNI was made in an effort to foster peace, we must stand behind those who help make our parade the greatest in the world. Therefore we have rescinded the invitation and the PSNI will not march in the New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.”

The question then must be asked – just who is it that makes their parade the greatest in the world? Certainly not anyone who isn’t anything other than a declared heterosexual. And seemingly also not anyone who is anything other than Irish through and through – the PSNI discarded because they are ostensibly part of the British police forces, in spite of the peace process, and post-Good Friday Agreement restructuring (ongoing since the late 1990s).

While Northern Ireland continues to attempt to build bridges metaphorical and literal, enter into power-sharing agreements, and establish the right of every citizen in the country to carry both British AND Irish passports and regard their nationality as British, Irish, or BOTH, it seems the rest of the world is playing catch up.

One presumes that those who actually make the New York St Patrick’s Day happen are ex-pat Irish Nationalists – nay, Irish Republicans, or more emphatically, the sort of ex-pat Irish republicans who fully support, endorse and facilitate dissident terrorism. In other words, the sort of people who couldn’t give a shit about those of us who actually live in this country and who just want to go about their daily lives without the threat of some twat with a gun or a ‘viable device’ looming over them.

How many of the so-called Irish taking part in the parade are actually Irish I wonder? How many of them were born on this island, and how many were born in America or elsewhere – and of those Irish-Americans, how many generations back do we have to go before we establish their Irishness? Was it your grand-parents, great-grandparents or more? How diluted is your genetic line? Are you as Mexican or Italian or Polish as you are Irish I wonder? And if you really are so Irish, why the hell are you living your life in America and not back home on Irish soil, working to build the Irish economy with the rest of your Irish brethren? You know Guinness isn’t meant to be green, right? That leprechauns aren’t real? That The Quiet Man is a film about domestic abuse rather than some fictitious Irish idyll? And that Jonny gets killed at the end of Odd Man Out not because he was an Irish republican and the Brits had to do away with him, but because he was a murdering bastard who didn’t give a shit about anyone but himself.

Screenshot_2014-03-14-23-59-55I find it deeply ironic that the organisers of the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade have stuck two fingers up at the PSNI representatives because the PSNI are seen as being part of the occupying forces (ie. Britain, who America has an allegiance, and various trade and international policing arrangements with), but at the same time are happy to boast about their special messages from various American soldiers who are occupying other territories, including Col. Houston in Bagram, Afghanistan, and all the boys from the USS Harry S Truman – also engaged in Afghanistan on “Operation Enduring Freedom”. Yeah, Enduring Freedom, exemplified by huge military bases, ships and other military vehicles. They could learn a lot from the PSNI and the British military in Northern Ireland – both of whom have closed down large numbers of stations and barracks.

It is, one has to admit, a very sorry state of affairs. But then should we be surprised from a city that takes its motto from Stan Lee comics? America has prided itself on an image as a tolerant nation, New York a melting pot of nationalities, and welcomer of all. But the reality is, that it is just as bigoted as those people it criticises. I can’t be the only one to see a parallel in language between the New Yorkers and NI’s Orangement, with talk of “our loyal supporters and parade participants”.

Last summer Belfast welcomed representatives from across America including New York’s own police and fire services at the World Police and Fire Games, and our PSNI were there participating and also keeping the visiting participants safe during their time in the city and further afield. And they brought away favourable reports – the “best and friendliest ever“. You see, in spite of the many disputes and issues, and frictions that still exist in this country, there also exists a great warmth and desire to be a positive force. Most of us are able to put our difficulties to one side, especially when it comes to making efforts internationally.

The same is not true of the organisers and supporters of the NYC St Patrick’s Day Parade. St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He was a Brit too – Romano-British, born most likely in Cumbria, and brought to Ireland by pirates. That he has been adopted as some sort of anti-British, Irish nationalist hero is both preposterous and insulting. If anything, St Patrick stands out as a symbol of the ties between Britain and Ireland – the very epitome of Northern Ireland and the Northern Irish in fact. St Patrick can unify, sadly those who act in his name are more interested in getting drunk than attempting any sort of unification. Shame on you.

Keeping Up Appearances

19 Jan
Top Secret - movie poster

Top Secret – movie poster

I suppose that it is far to say, that we all have secrets we’d rather keep hidden and skeletons in our closet. Doing family tree research for myself and for others, I frequently encounter attitudes of suspicion and fear regarding whatever I may find out. Curiously in most instances there isn’t even a hint as to what the secrets might be, but there are few families that aren’t without a torrid affair, a bastard baby or two or a criminal conviction. Thankfully we live in more enlightened times, so the scandals of the early 20th century simply provide colour in most instances rather than being something to get caught up and worried about. Though of course, there are relatives – often siblings or children – who still seem to carry that inherited shame, and it gets worse when dealing with families of a religious bent.

Secrets beget secrets.

The problem with secrets is that they can mess with your mind and have consequences much further down the line, particularly with children, and in turn they with their children. I’m still undecided whether it is worse to have to keep up the pretence of a secret or to uncover one and be unable to do or talk anything about it. Again within the genealogy research, I’ve stumbled inadvertently on a few (both in my family and others), and there are certain folk who you simply cannot talk to about the contents because of the potential for offence or upset. Meanwhile they might well be living with additional knowledge or living in fear of having additional secrets uncovered. What was gossip 60 years ago perhaps, is well buried now.

Of course everyone has a right to their own secrets and the privacy of their own lives. Really their issues are between them and whoever else was directly involved (assuming that the secrets involve others). Individuals ought to be allowed to express their own take as and when they choose, but none of us really has the right to press them on circumstances and events for which we were not a direct part.

This in turn finds its pinnacle in the fragile state of inter-personal relationships. It is not unknown for couples going through difficult times to present a unified image in public (think of celebrities for example) while they work through whatever processes they need to in private. With our limited knowledge it is far too easy from a read of the celebrity tabloids to say “I never saw it coming” when the relationship has been in tatters for a long time. Look for example at the ‘revelations’ this week about Linda Nolan in Celebrity Big Brother who drunkenly revealed that her solid marriage of 25 years was not a strictly monogomous one – but that she had sex with a significant number of male partners in the company of her husband (and no mention of whether he was offered the same luxury). With her husband long deceased, making such a confession in a public sphere isn’t going to cause upset to him, though possibly will shock friends/family. On the other hand, it may not. I certainly know a number of couples who are very public about their open relationships, and they themselves seem very content about it too. I’ll be frank and say that its something that I have hypothetically considered myself, though never actually indulged in. The notion that you and your partner might be so comfortable that you allow yourselves that freedom and trust is attractive mentally, though I very much doubt that it is something that I would ever be able to pull off – and certainly not without feeling even more guilt than normal, and pangs of jealousy for my partner’s freedom (in my head, they’re always the ones who succeed in the open bit, while I end up in unintentionally the same state as before). Unless the scenario is laid out as a possibility going in, I suspect presenting the open relationship scenario is really just a final test of the end of a relationship.

There’s an interesting documentary aired on Radio 4 last year, Monogamy and the Rules of Love which seeks to investigate the concept of polyamory and in particular one head-melter of a union between a group of four and their various spin offs (boy-girl, boy-girl, girl-girl, but not boy-boy, and member of group-plus a.n.y. other). The documentary goes to pains to obscure the identity of several participants and it is clear that the social stigma and shame surrounding some of these unconventional-but-modern relationship ideals is something which prevents couples from being honest with friends and family.

I think most people in Western Europe, and certainly here in Northern Ireland, would understand why something like this might still need to be kept private. We still live, as the documentary suggests, in a society where within marriage at least, the idea prevails of couples and not three and four-somes excepts outside swinging clubs and occasional indulgences (I’m told this happens anyway). And yet, outside of marriage, we turn a blind eye to ‘players’ and those who may be seeing two or more people simultaneously, quite possibly with full knowledge of the other participants. The media furore recently about French government officials have reminded us of how the idea of the Mistress is seemingly engrained in the French national concious too.

But what if you are a reluctant player? Should you be shamed into keeping shtum? Should your own experiences be something you have to keep locked away because of a fear of upsetting the other players? Here at least the laws of libel and slander may well serve to protect individuals and prevent a full and frank disclosure, and cripple the person making the public statements in the first place. But one shouldn’t be afraid to express a point of view, an experience, or indeed recount events verbatim, and one certainly shouldn’t be forced to maintain a false appearance of one’s own life or experiences because someone else asks you to.

Last year I removed a blog post because of the questions that arose from it and the repeated fear voiced that was I was saying might jeopardise my future prospects – being frank about mental health and depression experiences is still a taboo, and one has to tease out information rather than info-dump as I did. But doing so stifled me and undid the release I felt on writing and publishing in the first place. I’ve subsequently been able to address several of the core issues anyway through counselling and writing (both fictional and non-fictional pieces, some of which are pending an audience outlet). I also know that there have been times where my own life has been presented to others in a way other than the experiences I was living, and indeed other than I was expressing myself. So the question for some is, just who is telling the truth? As an historian I have to say, look at all the stories, and use the balance of common sense, interpretation and probable bias/agenda in order to discern the reality of any situation.

The OED suggests that ‘truth’ is something which is in accordance with fact or reality; but the truth of that is that yours and my reality of any given situation might be entirely different and indeed at odds. History is said to be written by the victors (when was the last time you read a National Socialist history of the 2nd World War for example – and no, that shouldn’t count as invoking Godwin’s Law), but we live in a day and age of immediate narrative via social networking and the uninhibited public airing of grievances via blogs and personal websites that are often little more than literary wank banks.


Publicity image of Stanley Kubrick directing Barry Lyndon

Publicity image of Stanley Kubrick directing Barry Lyndon

One of the first pieces I had professionally published was an article on the image of film director Stanley Kubrick who died in 1999, and in it I sought to reconcile the image of Kubrick as portrayed by the media (a strange solitary eccentric) with the reality as conveyed through interviews, surviving evidence and family member’s recollections (a much warmer, cleverer and public-facing man than myth conveyed). Kubrick himself appeared to be complicit in his media image, and so one was very aware that in essence there was truth to both accounts – but that one of those truths was built around false information and manipulation of fact.

It is often suggested in grievances and debates about historical veracity that the writers involved has misremembered, or misrepresented a particular event or set of circumstances. And that might well be the case – but that doesn’t necessarily negate their interpretation of the truth, and in those instances where their interpretation can be aided by supporting evidence we ask ourselves the basic question of ‘who do we believe’.

Martin McGuinness (Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland) was on BBC’s The View last week discussing his belief (repeated four times in the broadcast interview) that the Orange Order, PUP and UVF were in fact one and the same and that he had this on the authority of unnamed seniors within Unionism. A bold statement which has caused a great deal of debate and upset here. Perhaps a fair analysis of McGuinness’ beliefs and interpretation, but utterly lacking in credible supporting evidence. The public image in that the three organisations are separate, McGuinness says they are one and the same. Of course, I couldn’t help but think of that long-standing assertion by Unionists that Sinn Fein and the IRA were synonymous too – what goes around comes around.

Ian Paisley as shown on-screen in his BBC interviews broadcast January 2014

Ian Paisley as shown on-screen in his BBC interviews broadcast January 2014

Or there’s Ian Paisley who in his much-trailed televised interviews seems to have adopted a peculiar distance from reality – disassociating himself from memories of events, and certainly from the impact that his own statements had on individual people. Presented with newspaper reports of his inflammatory speeches in the 1960s and 70s, Paisley simply states that he has no recollection and even goes as far as to cast doubt on the veracity of some. It seems that for some, even presented with fairly solid proof (and one has to conceed the point that in those instances where no audio visual recording exists, Paisley may be being misquoted), they are inclined to re-write circumstances and events to suit their own agenda.

Maintaining false pretences is draining, and sooner or later the cracks will begin to show. There are those I know whose lives exist in a state of falseness, where public image and reality are mutually incompatible. But it is their lives, and I must respect their choice to work through things in their own way. For me, I simply try and be honest and frank – particularly since I had my first nervous breakdown several years ago. Being forthright has given me personal strength, and while I must watch my words I don’t find myself struggling with living a lie – and where and when appropriate I am able to expound on my experiences without fear.

To Fleg or not to Fleg

22 Dec

Ye gods! In spite of my extreme discomfort when it comes to Northern Irish politics (mostly because I suspect that in less enlightened times I would be pinned atop the Belfast Peace Wall and shot by representatives of both side should I actually voice my opinions) I keep getting dragged into it of late.

My post last week about LAD has stirred up a significant body of traffic and not a few comments. And the increasing LAD-related discussions in my Twitter feed are hard to ignore at times. I’m planning to come back to the topic in a few days in relation to the ongoing debate about humour and whether LAD’s postings can actually be regarded as such.

There was an exchange via Twitter last night where we were discussing the class boundaries, with LAD declaring “The whole class thing is a scam designed to keep people in boxes…There ain’t no box big enough to hold a LAD.” Considering I see myself as a box jumper (its in the eye of the beholder regarding what class boundary I am seen as – if one believes in such things), I should state for record now, that I am not a LAD, although I have sympathies with a significant chunk of their activity. I’m not part of their admin team, and if I have met them ever, it is unknown to me. As some individuals are on a campaign to unmask the organisation and being aware of my own public interaction, statements and media background, its probably best to clear that up lest someone finger me for some reason.

heraldic Flag Of Ulster

heraldic Flag Of Ulster

At the moment American Dr Richard Haas is in the country leading discussions between our political representatives regarding the latest set of peace initiatives, proposing how Northern Ireland should deal with parades, flags and “the past”. Ignoring the temptation to see it as an insane prospect to have someone fly into the country and resolve some of our most contentious issues through a week’s chit chat when we haven’t been able to fix it for decades, the flag debate appears to be the most contentious.

The red/white/blue and green/white/orange combinations are used here as tribal colours, marking territory as republican or unionist and effectively dividing the country up into a series of no-go areas. I know far too many people who refuse to make trips anywhere near particular areas because of the perceived threat embodied in those flag colours. Over the last year much has been made of the Union flag (red/white/blue – UK), which after over a century of continuous flying has been removed from Belfast City Hall except for designated days – and which was used by certain groups as incitement to riot and intimidate the entire country through road blocks and protests last Christmas. They cry that “Ulster Is British” and that as such only the Union flag should fly.

Irish Tricolour

Irish Tricolour

On the other side are the republicans, who use the Irish Tricolour (green/white/orange), and who would welcome the use of the Tricolour alongside the Union flag as a compromise. The Unionists it seems aren’t too happy with this, viewing it as a “foreign” flag, and refuse to permit its flying anywhere.

The whole point of the Good Friday Agreement was, I thought, to learn the need to compromise. Protestants are no longer the overwhelming majority in Northern Ireland, and proper democracy demands that opinions of all are taken into account. Traditionally protestants and unionists were inextricably linked, and the same with catholics and republicans – but the realities are somewhat more skewed. It makes using any term rather limiting and inadequate.

The 2010 Westminster elections resulted in unionists taking 50.5% of the votes (barely passing the half way mark), with 42% going to the republicans, and 7.5% going to other parties. Effectively this means if we took a sample of ten people, 5 are unionist and 4 republican. In terms of logistics, the difference is so slight that one cannot comfortably speak of majorities. Unionists have to accept that there are nearly as many people voting republican as unionist, and republicans have to accept that unionists still have a huge say.

UK union flag

UK union flag of 1606 – before Ireland joined the Union and so missing St Patrick’s Cross. 

Now, I accept that voting patterns for political parties do not necessarily represent what way the vote would go in a referendum if offered the choice for Northern Ireland to either remain in the union, or rejoin with the rest of Ireland. But our democratic declaration is pretty evenly split – hence the reason why Alliance often seem to have a deciding vote – and have come in for much grief for every view expressed that doesn’t align with the unionist parties’.

Standing back and trying to be objective, bringing the union flag flying policies in line with the rest of the UK’s councils seems to be perfect sense, and is perhaps the properly ‘loyal’ thing to do, rather than be zealot-like in an over-declaration. In fact, it might even help dissipate some of the dick-waggling that seems to go with regards to these sorts of symbols among the masses.

We’ve had power sharing for many years now, both between NI and the UK, and NI and the Irish Government via the North/South Ministerial Committee. Ireland has a say in certain issues within the country, and by extension NI has a say in Ireland. NI also benefits from funding from Europe, so the idea that we exist in some sort of splendid isolation, or in an exclusive relationship with Westminster is a complete fallacy. There are pros and cons to these relationships which I leave for economists and politicians to debate at length, but the reality is that government is complicated.

With this in view, optionally flying the Tricolour alongside (but not in a superior position to, as per the UK guidelines) the Union flag isn’t that disrespectful, and acknowledges Northern Ireland’s rather unique position as a hybrid state between the UK and Ireland without needing to sever individual connections and benefits to either. Further, the unionists/protestants should maybe consider viewing the compromise as something which further recognises their position. The symbolism of the Tricolour is itself the symbolism of contrast, with the green traditionally representing Gaelic Ireland, the orange symbolising protestantism and the white marking a hoped for peace between. Poetic license and those uncomfortable with the representations often refer to ‘gold’ rather than orange, but this doesn’t negate the intent.

I have little doubt that proposals will be forwarded for a new flag for Northern Ireland which will in some way incorporate both traditions, and will no doubt be rejected by both loyalists and republicans as disrespectful and evidence of their country selling-out – especially if it incorporates green/orange/red/blue. My own suggestion is for something in black and white (easily photocopiable/faxable) – also indicative of the attitudes of many, who see the politics here as simple (its us or them). Though from a tourism point of view, that would be a waste – we need iconic things to attract foreigners. Celtic harps and celtic crosses are probably too Irish for the loyalists, and imperialistic imagery like Britannia is just going to wind up the republicans. Simple shapes will probably win out.  A representation of the Giant’s Causeway would perhaps be a sensible move – as an utterly non-sectarian and mythical place (replacing the Red Hand motif), and also symbolising the journey of the Ulster Scots, which is utterly relevant to most of us here in some way.

Anyway – its just a flag. A temporary symbol of a ruling authority – and frankly if it induces riots, it isn’t worth having. The number of people who claim to hold the flag with esteem may want to think about that – every week I see the tattered remnants of various flags flying from posts, and in trees across the city.