There was further disruption in East Belfast last night after the City Council vote to restrict the flying of the Union Flag to the King’s birthday only.
Tensions were raised after the Council used its Nationalist majority to change the rules and fly the flag only on 14 November each year, as well as the Tricolour and the St Patrick’s Flag on 17 March.
United Official Unionist Leader Cllr Irvine complained that the decision was sectarian, flew in the face of equality policy, and that Nationalists were taking no account of the generosity Unionists had shown in the past by agreeing to fly the flag only on designated days in the old Craigavon and Lisburn Councils.
Independent political commentator Basil McCrea did note, however, that Unionists had changed their tune somewhat over the past decade, having previously demanded the flag fly all the time in Belfast. “No wonder more and more Unionists are opting for the garden centre”, he opined. The editorial in Northern Ireland’s only remaining regional newspaper, the online DetailNI, noted that, since the population of Catholic background is now larger than that of Protestant background according to the 2021 census (even though both are a minority), the disturbances are really to do with coming to terms with a new demographic reality in Northern Ireland.
Belfast South East MP Naomi Long hit out at the disturbances, saying that with complex negotiations going on people needed to reconcile. “My colleague, Michael Bower, will tell you that ever since he became Northern Ireland’s first Minister for External Relations after the Salmond Agreement and the introduction of the Statute of Autonomy, his job has been made ever more difficult by pictures of disruption being beamed around the world on our tablet screens.”
Economic commentator Richard Ramsay confirmed the concerns of business in Northern Ireland. “Ever since the Farry Doctrine increased our skills base and saw our standard of living rise to among the highest among UK regions outside London, we have to understand we are no longer such a special case” he said at a NIPSA conference in Belfast, admittedly to a frosty reception.
Prime Minister Rachel Reeves has refused to intervene, still reeling from the backlash from her decision to force through a smoking ban in all public places in England despite her party lacking a majority in Parliament among English MPs. All of this has seen a further rise in support for English independence at September’s referendum. “More and more people are grasping our message that the Celtic fringe simply costs us £20 billion every year and we get nothing back” explained the head of the yes-to-independence campaign, Lord Farage.