History is never one-sided; it always has different layers of truth, fiction and emotional connections. This is once again proven by what has been going on in Belfast for the last 5 weeks.
A simple decision by Belfast’s City Council to limit flag-bearing of the Union flag on its City Hall to 18 days has opened old wounds of the big divide that has clouded Irish and international minds for centuries.
I spoke rather fondly of Belfast after a short holiday break in County Antrim last summer with my family. After living in Ireland for 10 years, it was finally time to see the inner city, its people and the way they live. I had been in Belfast on several occasions, but I never took time to actually see more than just its shops. I believed that the big Irish divide was disappearing slowly; that it was now time for peace (http://willeke73.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/the-big-irish-divide/), but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
An uneasy feeling was with me during last year’s break, one I wasn’t fully able to place. I asked myself how people were able to live the way they did, and if I had an uneasy feeling, how did they feel about the Falls/Shankill divide and why people just couldn’t get along.
Those questions are now answered as children, some as young as 10 years old, have joined protests against the number of days the flag will fly over Belfast City Hall. Teenagers and people in their twenties are marching to defend their right to see the Union Jack fly over the City Hall every day of the year, and not just on the 18 designated days decided on December 3rd 2012.
Unionists (those who want to remain with the UK) say they are hurt by the decision while nationalists (or Irish republicans) are happy that at least they are somehow being recognized by the decision. As a non-national living in Ireland for a decade now, it feels too ridiculous for words. Cars being burned, police officers hurt and businesses damaged by kids who weren’t even born until way after the Troubles finished, and what for? To show they are ‘loyal’ or that they want to remain part of the kingdom of the British Isles?
The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, which set out solutions to issues relating to civil and cultural rights, the decommissioning of weapons, justice and policing. Also central to the agreement were provisions in relation to Northern Ireland and Ireland, and between the . Lots of positive steps were taken since then, more notably the meeting in the Valley of the Boyne of the then Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his Northern Ireland counterpart Ian Paisley in 2007, the first time they ever met. If they were able to do it, if Queen Elizabeth was able to do a successful tour around Ireland in 2011, then why can’t loyalist teenagers stop the hurt their forefathers inflicted on the Irish all those centuries ago? Where is the parental influence on those children, who know nothing aside from what they’ve heard for people much older than them?
It baffles me because it seems some loyalists (or rather: a lot of loyalists) intend to never forget, to keep on marching to the beat of their Orange Order bands through small communities and to continue their July 12th commemoration to “help remember” that on that day in 1690, catholic King James fought the Dutch protestant king William of Orange, and that King Billy was victorious. Ireland was swept “clean” of Catholics and of Irish Gaelic was forbidden, singing Irish songs also, women were raped, their children abused and people burned out of their houses. Horses had their tongues cut out alive so they would suffer a terrible death, and whatever food came off the field was sent to England’s rich and famous, leaving the Irish to starve.; speaking
So please tell me, if anyone should be “hurt” it very much should be the Irish people, those from the republic who had to endure centuries of British torture. Not the 10 year-old kids now rioting in Belfast who don’t know anything about what went before the Good Friday Agreement and the Saint Andrews Agreement.
And if things were not bad enough already, loyalists will now march in Dublin and to Leinster House this Saturday, to the seat of government of the Irish republic to make their “grievances” clear. To me it seems loyalists don’t want to give up their dominance over Ireland, even when Ireland has been independent for decades. Loyalists want to keep a hold over a part of Ireland, hanging hundreds of Union flags around the 6 counties they still own. It made my stomach flip upon seeing all those flags and murals which depict them as victims. You will also find flags and murals on the catholic side of Belfast so I am not totally blind to its background, but by god, loyalists really do give their Union Jack a whole new meaning of having an identity. However, isn’t it time for peace? Haven’t people suffered enough at the hands of politicians, kings and queens only out for bloodshed?
The nagging feeling I had last August now has an answer: it was my gut feeling telling me that all was still not well, and if 10 year old kids are the boss, they will probably keep rioting because they’ve got nothing else to do. No jobs, school sucks, families torn apart by financial stress, breakdown of family structures and so on.
As for loyalist protests in Dublin, loyalists should play on their own patch, and not involve innocent citizens who have nothing to do with protests over flags on a Belfast building. Leave us be, we have more urgent issues to deal with in the republic instead of having to barricade half of our capital’s city centre in order to avoid criminal damage or people getting hurt?
Time has moved on for the Irish, but it seems the clock has stopped for the loyalists across the border. In the end, they are feeding hatred among young people who deserve a chance to move on, to let go and to start again. The Irish have suffered enough without a flag tarnishing the’s mind. Belfast won’t be seeing me anytime soon, that I am sure of because I am afraid of getting caught up in riots over something so innocent. It’s a pity, because I really was looking forward to discovering more of Belfast. Not for the next few months anyway.
(Note: I am not a republican, nor am I part of any republican orientated political party. My heart belongs to Ireland, simple as).
UPDATE JANUARY 12TH 2013: The loyalist protests at Leinster House in Dublin have been cancelled and will more than likely take place another day. Let’s hope they do not travel down here because we have nothing to do with their flag issues…
Second update is that now 8-year-olds are now rioting and attacking police as well in County Antrim. Protests have also been held in Liverpool and Glasgow. Like I wrote in my post the other day, this is now getting out of control. The protests are just symptoms of a society in recession, no jobs, no money, bored kids and parental guidance totally missing. If you’d ask those young kids, they wouldn’t know a thing about why they’re rioting.