The landscape is changing in Portadown although you may not notice the small changes.
We have become so used to seeing flags or namely rags flying from lamp posts throughout the town that you may not have noticed they have gone.
Over 150 having been taken down in just two days.
Year on year on July 1 the town comes alive with colour as the red white and blue of the Union Flag dominates the scenery. The flying of our national flag is a source of great pride to the young men and women who take the time to put them up and proclaim their loyalty to the Union in a visual way. Yet in the past, as the summer turned to autumn and autumn to winter the flags remained and soon become tattered shadows of themselves, the pride lost, and the colours faded.
Yet things are changing. I have long been an opponent of leaving flags flying all year round from lamp posts for them to turn to rags, yet I support the dignified flying of the Union flag in the town centre. But these changes are not down to me or any other elected representative.
Recently I attended a meeting with representatives of Corcrain estate, Redmondville, Edgarstown, Brownstown, Killycomain and Rectory Park. Young working class Protestants who had come together to address not just flags but other issues. It soon became clear they had put the flags up with all the joys of the 12th of July celebrations on the horizon and in the late warm evenings of an Ulster summer. Yet as autumn crept in there were less resources and less people available to take the flags down. So the flags were left to fly and eventually turned to rags.
Now with the lead of a new community group, known as Regenerate, they intend to write a simple policy letter detailing what is acceptable in respect to the flying of flags and in time the building of bonfires. Regenerate is a working class community group operating at grass roots level, their core values and aims are empowerment, education, employment and cohesion.
They want to create a collective voice, not speaking for community groups but supporting community groups.
There are those who will say that if it is not a cross community initiative then it shouldn’t receive support either vocally or financially. But working class Protestants have been marginalised for far too long.
I believe that it is incredibly important that everyone should have a voice in this society. The future of Northern Ireland is a shared future and these young men and women must be heard.