Monday 23 April 2018

No one group can claim our green, white and orange

Readers will recall how members of Sinn Féin drew some flak from Cllr Malcolm Byrne for the way in which the tricolour was deployed during election celebrations earlier this summer.

He suggested that the Shinners had treated the national flag like a dish cloth as it was waved around with wild abandon in the count centre at St Joseph's GAA club while new councillor after new councillor was hoisted shoulder high.

Malcolm had a point but your reporter is not inclined to be so critical after talking to one excited SF member who spoke of how long the organisation's faithful had been waiting to enjoy such a breakthrough.

It certainly was not an occasion for solemnity. This was the party's party, so it was hardly surprising that any props to hand were treated boisterously.

Still, the spat with Cllr Byrne – since elected chairman of Wexford Council – prompts a few thoughts about how we regard the old green, white and orange...

I ponder how I was a member of the boy scouts as a teenager and stood to rigid attention as the flag was ceremonially raised during summer camps each morning, whether at home or abroad.

Come dusk, leaders and boys gathered once more to see it safely lowered, those pulling on the rope charged with making sure that it must not be soiled by touching the ground.

As it came down, we likely sang 'Day is done. Gone the sun. From the sea, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest. God is nigh.'

The memory prompts sentimental goosebumps as a middle-aged man harks back to some breezy field where he stood shoulder to shoulder with the buddies of his adolescence.

And I can still play the 'Day is done' tune with wavering uncertainty on the harmonica if asked – though no one ever puts in the request, thank goodness.

To this day, I am prompted to snap to attention whenever the flag is run up the pole outside the courthouse in Wexford or Gorey to signify the presence of the judge.

However, such little rituals are scarce in modern Ireland and there is a danger that day-to-day displays of the tricolour are being left to Republicans and supporters of Glasgow Celtic.

If it really is the case that the national emblem is being increasingly cornered by one narrow section of the political spectrum and a bunch of soccer fans, then the rest of us need to examine our attitude.

As someone of Church of Ireland background, I have always appreciated the symbolism of the flag with the green of the Catholic united in peace by the white with the Protestant orange.

It is nice that the Protestant minority is given equal billing, even if we are a little further out than our Catholic neighbours from the security of the pole.

And the choice of orange should not be taken to signify automatic allegiance to that bowler-hatted order which has done so much to sow division among the people of this island over the centuries.

Perhaps it is time for all political parties and all segments of society to consider how to show greater interest in our flag and in our national identity.

We should do our best to ensure that our attitude to the flag lives up to the spirit of inclusiveness which was the intent of Thomas Francis Meagher when he came up with the design in the 1840s...

I read with perplexity that Sinn Féin continues to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in the United States.

Good luck to them in their fundraising but I worry that it is somehow the result of a minority party being able to portray itself as somehow more Irish than the rest of us – and that cannot be right.

Irishness in modern Ireland should not be presented as anti-Britishness. Nor should it be presumed that Republicans have a monopoly on loyalty to the notion of a republic.

We may all of us aspire to be citizens of an all-embracing, tolerant, multi-faceted republic.

At the recent Bannow Show, part of the SF stand was devoted to the sale of books and souvenirs of 'The Struggle', including a picture of a masked gunman.

Sorry, lads, but such imagery has no place in the politics of the 21st century. Any northern Unionist seeing this image is bound to consider that he/she may be the target in the sights of that gunman.

The aspiration of bringing all of Ireland together, as expressed in the tricolour, is a noble one, though it carries no certain guarantee that it will ever become a reality. It should be dispayed with self-confidence and in a spirit of genuine peace, not hidden under a balaclava.

The green white and orange is a flag we may all wrap around us in peace and pride. It is not the preserve of any one segment.

Gorey Guardian