January 9 –tomorrow–is Kate Middleton’s birthday and one of the 20 days of the year when the Union Jack will fly over the city hall in Belfast, and above all other municipal HQs in the UK. If you find it hard to keep up with royal birthdays, you may wish to download this list which details all the designated days when the flag of the United Kingdom MUST be hoisted.
Belfast’s City Hall was built in 1906 and the Union Jack has flown over the building from then until New Year 2013 on each designated day, and all other days besides.
Belfast City Council now has more members from Sinn Fein than from any other party. As nationalists, the Shinners have no truck with the flag of the union, and so late last year they proposed to take it down altogether. The non-sectarian Alliance Party, whose members hold the balance of power, pointed out the designated flag days policy, and argued that the red, white and blue should be flown on those days to stay sweet with the rest of the UK, and, with luck, to appease the Unionists, who of course think the flag should fly loud and proud all the time. Sinn Fein agreed and so Belfast will be celebrating the Duchess of Cambridge’s birthday along with the rest of the UK tomorrow.
For the last five nights, there has been serious rioting in hard line loyalist parts of the city, with policemen hurt and motorists refused access to their usual routes home after work. Nationalist and Alliance Party elected representatives have been intimidated and threatened in their homes. Unionist party leaders have condemned this violence, but still it continues. The rioters took Christmas off–their offence, it seems, is felt only part time and never during public holidays or when Man Utd are on TV. They also feel no need to protest during the morning rush hour which would mean getting out of bed early and being indignant before the pubs open.
The protesters do not buy the argument that Belfast is simply falling into line with the rest of the UK. I have some sympathy with this: it is true that UK government buildings do have the right to fly the flag all year round if they choose, in addition to designated days. I don’t know how many of them do fly it 365, and I doubt if any British citizen on what my East Belfast chums term “the mainland” have ever stopped to notice, consider or question this.
The protesters also claim that the council’s choice to pack up the pennant in Belfast is undemocratic. This is patently untrue. I wouldn’t vote for Sinn Fein myself, but many thousands did in the last council elections. If the protesters want to make a difference to decision-making in Belfast perhaps they would be better advised to spend their time getting out the loyalist vote than barricading the streets.
At the risk of further incensing the protesters, maybe the customized colors below are the way forward?