Unionism in Northern Ireland now faces an unravelling crisis which endangers the peace and stability of the whole country. I place the blame squarely on the games players within the DUP and the Alliance Party, but blame is secondary. As ever in the clusterbang that is Northern Ireland’s politics, the one question nobody appears to have the sense to ask properly is ‘Cui Bono?’- who stands to gain? (although ‘Cui Prodest?’ is perhaps a more amusing construction)
Our nationality and national identity is not materially affected by the flying of a flag. When the Argentine marines hoisted their flag at Stanley, it did not make the Falkland Islanders Argentinian. On designated days when the Union Flag is hoisted over PSNI stations, it does not make the constables therein more British. At the going down of the sun and the playing of Taps, America does not become less American.
Who gains from British people behaving un-Britishly?
A) Sinn Féin – Definitely
If I was a Sinn Féin member, I would be rather amused by the whole spectacle. Not only have the huns lost their flag, but they’re now running around smashing up the place and splitting the previously solid support for the DUP. It’s likely that in some peripheral wards their vote will split and the seeds of Unionist electoral minority will be sown.
B) Dissidents – Definitely
If I was a dissident republican, I would see the opportunity to ‘defend my community’ and gather membership to be indoctrinated into the hate which makes it easy to kill and maim.
C) Alliance – Probably Not
If I was an Alliance Party member, I might see the opportunity to consolidate in East Belfast – but hopefully the people there will see their hand in the crisis for what it was – a bumbling, incoherent failure to foresee an obvious (but stupid) outcome of siding with the nationalist and republicans on the City Council. Far from being even-handed and sensible, this was Alliance playing kingmaker in City Hall – whether they were right or wrong, they should have been able to work out the likely outcome.
D) UUP – Definitely Not
If I was a member of the UUP, I’d probably pack up and go home. By allying with the DUP, they’ve lost the wriggle room to back off from the position they’ve taken. With the exception of, to a certain extent, Basil McCrea, they have not covered themselves in glory in this dispute.
E) DUP – Definitely Not
If I was a member of the DUP, I would probably have to look back at my notes to work out why I’d moved my Knight rather than my Rook, and why nobody on Facebook had told me to concentrate on the Realpolitik rather than getting the designers in to make a pretty red, white and blue logo to keep the flag flying. By making the flag a do-or-die matter, they deserved a fail.
But I’m none of these – I’m a Conservative who dreams of a politics where those who claim to love my country don’t hand every conceivable advantage to the enemies of it. I dream of a politics where someone in addition to the Secretary of State has the fortitude to stand up and say ‘I like the flag, but I like peace, security, the rule of law and mutual respect a whole lot more – and by the way, stop smashing up the place and trying to set fire to the police’.
Democracy has been done – the representatives of the people in City Hall have voted, and they have decided on designated days. I have no confidence in the leadership of the DUP, the UUP or the Alliance Party to effectively engage in a way likely to bring about peace and justice in Belfast.
When I’m in Belfast I know where I am. I see the history of the place, the peculiarly British Irishness (or Irish Britishness) of the city all around me, and I know that the city is part of the United Kingdom. I know it will be until a day (which will likely never come) when the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise. Never once have I had to look up to the front of City Hall to identify the country I was in. That we’re being led into an existential crisis by people who rely so heavily on eighteen square feet of cloth to affirm their national identity is a deeply upsetting thing.