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Political Platform

(by Martin Smyth,

Monica McWilliams started last week's platform: "In most parts of the world, summer is a feel-good time. In Northern Ireland, many approach this time of year with a sense of impending doom."

That was not always the case and need not be the case now.

The summer being hyped up by the media, some politicians and others, like trailers are used to hype up an action film before its release, does not help the situation.

Adopting the attitude that trouble and doom are inevitable is only to signal that it is a fait accompli, and in fact creates it as the norm.

Monica also asked: "Can we learn to express our culture and identity without aggression and triumphalism?"

However, often when an accusation is made of culture being expressed with "aggression and triumphalism", it is made by those whose real difficulty is that that culture is being expressed at all. So, there is a bigger question: Can we learn to live with the culture, identity, and traditions of other cultures?

Tolerance is apparently one of the key essences of the Agreement. What is often displayed, however, is the intolerance of tolerance. Those most often advocating it, like the wider politically-correct brigade, do so for their own preferred causes but do not extend it to others.

The ludicrous spectacle of people making special efforts to go out of their way to be offended is seen on the Garvaghy Road as residents come out of their houses and venture down to the top of the road at nine o'clock in the morning to watch the parade pass by on the outward route.

If it is possible for them to so inconvenience themselves to experience this deep trauma when it is not on the road, could they not endure ten to fifteen minutes within the comfort of their own homes to allow others the use of a public highway?

In the case of the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads, one is not considering a back street where only one community live, but actually arterial routes into town and city centres.

For many the issue is about more than a particular parade. They see the adage "No Orange feet on our road" as really meaning "No Protestant feet on our road", signalling a campaign of ethnic cleansing and territory marking which should be unacceptable anywhere, never mind on a public highway on which everyone should be entitled to safe and free passage. How else can the stoning of buses carrying Protestant schoolchildren on the Garvaghy Road be explained?

An Orange parade should be offensive to no-one.

The Order has been active in both marshalling its parades and taking action against Lodge and accompanying band members whose behaviour has been provocative and unacceptable. Unfortunately, such positive actions have not been reciprocated.

One must realise that there is another agenda to maximise disruption which means that some will be determined to stop parades, no matter what the Order does. The Sinn Féin admission of some years ago that these things did not come about by accident merely confirmed this.

The Agreement's great achievement was to formally declare that Northern Ireland's position within the Union is secure until the majority vote otherwise. Therefore, we are undoubtedly British.

However, there are those who are only prepared to acknowledge Northern Ireland's position within the Union as a mere technicality and nothing more.

Just as with Orange culture, they have insisted on trying to deny our British status by treating Northern Ireland as a neutral zone. What is not neutral about displaying the outward signs of the country to which one legally and constitutionally belongs?

At this time our streets are adorned with all manner of paraphernalia which because of various issues, including the intimidation of workers, are extremely difficult to get the authorities to remove, and there is no need for much of it.

There is no reason for the flaunting of the flags of any foreign nation, whether they be that of Palestine, Israel or the Republic. Nor is there any excuse for the display of paramilitary flags, murals or any other form which glorifies terrorist organisations, no matter which community they emanate from.

There is a distinction for our national flag, which we should be entitled to fly as British citizens.

I accept that some would argue that it is devalued by having it fly from every lamppost for months, and that some see that as being unnecessarily excessive, as they do the painting of everything in sight red, white and blue.

In particular areas, residents will enjoy that sight and revel in it but in others they feel that it lowers the tone of the neighbourhood. That has to be respected.

However, I think that it is partly a backlash against, and would not be such a problem if it were not for, the wider concerted effort against the recognition of our Britishness.

The recent Golden Jubilee celebrations in England have seen the flag being taken back from the BNP and other extreme English nationalists, because the message went out to the population that there is nothing wrong with being proud in your nationality and demonstrating it positively.

However, in parts of Belfast the flying of the flag and bunting for the Jubilee was only met by republican attacks upon those putting them up.

It is these instances when people see such demonstrations being met with hostile discouragement, and when they feel that their nationality and culture is being marginalized, that more negative elements and even ordinary citizens will make efforts in excess to prove the opposite and to show that they are still alive and kicking.

If we could truly respect each other's cultures and show true tolerance, rather than using aspects of our culture for "the war by other means", the clashes that have so unnecessarily marred previous summers would naturally become a thing of the past.

July 3, 2002

This article appeared first on the web site on June 28, 2002.