It’s funny how perceptions change. When I was a teenager, I saw a photo of a Garda and a member of the RUC standing side by side at some joint border exchange. What struck me was how well equipped the RUC man was, with an earpiece and throat mike and flack jacket and Heckler and Koch MP5 machine gun. The Garda, on the other hand, had a uniform that didn’t seem to fit very well, no weapon, and an aul walkie-talkie around his neck with a worn leather band. It was very clear looking at the picture which one came from the wealthier country with its shit together.
These days, it’s all change. Even now, amidst the recession, we in the south still, since the days of the tiger, peer down at the north as our poor backward cousins. When DUP people attempt to claim that they, that is the UK, have bailed us out, we respond that no, actually, the English bailed us out, as they do to you everyday. But our real eye-rolling is reserved for the loyalists we see strutting about in recent times waving union jacks. The strutting, the put-on manliness mixed with beer belly mixed with an anti-intellectual thuggishness which makes them think that signs in Ulster Scots are in Irish or that the Italian flag is actually the tricolour, that’s what we, in many instances, choose to see.
It suits us too, because it allows is to be the reasonable modern country which doesn’t do sectarian headcounts or wave bibles too much (any more) and snigger at Alabama-on-the-Bann getting all upset about a flag.
But just count how many union jacks you see on the way to work. Last week, I saw plenty of tricolours, EU, German, and American flags, and even one Chinese flag. But not one British flag, despite the fact that we have more British tourists and trade more with the UK than anyone else. We happily fly the flags of all our friends and allies outside hotels and business, yet aside from official state events, how often do you see the union jack? And we think they’ve got a problem with a flag?
But it’s not our flag, some say. True. But neither is the Chinese or US or German, but we have no problem flying them. It is their flag, and if we were asked to only fly our flag 15 times a year over Leinster House we’d get very indignant. Ah, but they have to recognise that they live in a shared community, where the union jack is offensive to some. Again, true. But if those same people, whom we apparently wish to join us in a United Ireland at some stage said the same to us about the tricolour…
Put it another way: If Stormont offered to fly the tricolour for 15 days a year in return for Leinster House flying the union jack for the same time, as an act of mutual respect for both cultures, is there anyone who does not think we’d have all-sorts roaring and shouting about it down here, screaming “treason!” and “is this what the men of 1916,etc”, including a bunch of gurriers with tricolours wrapped around them, loaded up Dutch Gold and battling with the Public Order Squad, that is, in between robbing Champion Sports?
The 15 day rule is as reasonable a compromise as any, and I’m certainly not condoning a bunch of yobs taking over public streets and threatening struggling businesses and people going about their day. But we down here might want to be a little less sneery at loyalists for getting upset about a piece of cloth we refuse to even fly.