When paramilitary organisations put up flags it is not about culture. It is a deliberate attempt to demarcate territory and to intimidate, and the law should protect against this. For the third year in a row UVF flags have gone up in Cantrell Close – appalling anywhere at the best of times, but all the more sinister because this is a *shared* housing development. Anyone who defends these flags is defending violent and threatening behaviour.
Whilst there is an obvious difference between paramilitary flags and ‘national flags’ – the latter is too frequently used for similar purposes. For the constituents I’ve been working with this summer, the key issue is not the flags themselves, it’s the anonymity. They know that in July flags will go up –but the fact that they’re erected late at night, by unknown groups of men – unsure for how long they’ll remain – is for many people deeply unsettling.
The police have told me they will only remove flags “if there are substantial risks to public safety” – how they establish this is a mystery to me. In the meantime nothing is done about the intimidation and authorities seemingly rely on those opposed just keeping quiet. If you feel unsafe or vulnerable you just have to deal with it.
Before the Assembly collapsed my colleague Paula Bradshaw was developing legislation – we need this, because until we have strict regulation and genuine leadership on the matter (which btw does not involve politicians knocking on doors and asking people if they mind the UVF flags outside their house…) then we’ll continue to revisit this every. single. year.
Everyone should be free to celebrate their culture, but ensuring this is done in a peaceful, transparent & time-bound way really shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Photo source: Irish News