Saturday 20 January 2018

It's our beliefs not flags that define who we are


WHAT'S in a name? What's in a symbol? What's in a flag - or, if you are of a certain persuasion - 'fleg'?

The Union 'fleg' controversy has been raging now for nearly four weeks after Belfast City councillors voted not to fly the flag every day, but only on designated days. Just to make doubly sure we're not missing anything, they're not replacing the 'fleg' with anything else, certainly not the tricolour - just empty space. Since the decision, taken at the start of December, there have been protests that have ranged from the peaceful to the violent, and, as outlined below, to the bizarre.

Later this week, if they're to be believed, a group of Loyalists are heading to Dublin to 'sarcastically' ask for the tricolour to be removed from the top of Leinster House. They might be in for a shock when they see that it's probably already down as it only flies when the Oireachtas is doing business.

But no matter. They can go to Dublin if they want, but I have a better proposal - why don't we get them to come to Dundalk instead? And how can we tempt the God-fearing brethren to this part of the world?

We could fly the 'fleg' - theirs, not ours - above the courthouse in Dundalk on the day they're coming.

Yes, you read that right and you haven't stepped into a parallel universe - fly the Union flag above the courthouse in Dundalk, for one day only, as a 'gesture' towards the lads and lassies who feel they're not being listened to in Belfast. Sure, we will listen to them here.

We will give them a great day out as well - we could call it the start of The Gathering.

How about this: the 150 or so Loyalists who want to go to Dublin can come to Dundalk instead. It would save them a fortune in diesel by forgoing the extra 60 miles or so. They would be here in the morning and they could stop in Boyd's car park before dandering up the town and taking a look at the red, white and blue fluttering in the breeze above the courthouse.

They could take a few pictures there and then head over to the ice rink, which is open until next Monday, and take a spin around the Square. It's not like they're not used to skating on thin ice anyway, so they should be experts. And before the morning is out, they could have a look around the great sales in the town centre and in the Marshes.

By lunchtime, they could be the best-dressed Protestants in Belfast and before 2pm comes around, they could make their way to any number of the fine eateries in Dundalk and get their fish and chips in the Roma, Europa and the Kingfisher before making their way for more shopping - at a very generous sterling rate. We could encourage them into the County Museum where King Billy's coat from the Battle of the Boyne is there for all to enjoy.

Then, back onto the buses and away home with their bellies too full and their oufits too new to be going rioting on the streets of Belfast that night. Am I serious? Kinda, yeah, but the flag issue is one that shouldn't be dismissed with a roll of the eyes and: ' That's typical of them Loyalists'. Would it be so terrible if the Union flag was flown above the courthouse in Dundalk for one day? What would happen if it was?

Would we be suddenly a less Irish, less republican town because of a gesture like that?

Is our identity and how we feel about our country so wrapped up in one flag, one symbol, one name?

No, it's not. It's what you believe and how you feel, not what 'fleg' flies where and when that defines us and, hopefully, in time, them.

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