A welcome step on road to normality

Some of the 150 Union and loyalist flags removed from across Portadown. INPT16-030
Some of the 150 Union and loyalist flags removed from across Portadown. INPT16-030

Flags have been a contentious issue in Northern Ireland for as long as anyone can remember – an issue that politicians flog for all they’re worth, often to keep the communities at one another’s throats, thus securing their support in election after election.

Too often, flags are a symptom of division, used to mask the ineptitude of a political system that encourages and propagates the orange-green chasm, rather than fighting social issues and encouraging the right-left politics that are the hallmark of a true democracy.

Craigavon Borough Council has used the flags issue ruthlessly and relentlessly to fly in the face of proper politics. And no matter how the inept Assembly conducts its business, the voting comes down to the colour of your flag and the colours used in your election material. The arid arguments in the council over whether the Union Flag should fly 365 days a year, or not at all, haven’t created a single job (probably chased industry away) or bolstered an overburdened health service or helped the education system.

So it’s pleasing to see Portadown’s community-rooted group Regenerate taking the initiative and facilitating a responsible agreement towards flying flags – a solution that has eluded councillors. The council did come up with a ‘designated days’ policy at the turn of the millennium, but it has disappeared in the sectarian ether in recent years. Even on the demise of CBC, the issue was being trawled before the various equality groups.

The Regenerate group managed to get the various community groups and individuals together and reach a consensus that flying the flags long after the marching season ended did the town no great credit. It meant little – except perhaps marking out territory – as they fluttered through the autumn and into the winter, and by Christmas were reduced to tattered rags.

Flags were removed by community representatives, from Corcrain to Kernan, Brownstown to Killicomaine, but two in the town centre still remain. One can only hope that the main ones in the town centre should also be removed in the ‘off season’. But one has to know Portadown to realise that the deal has been a toughly-negotiated compromise, and you can’t have everything. And at least the town centre flags are well maintained.

Meanwhile, Craigavon Borough Council has been merged with Armagh and Banbridge, and perhaps the ABC group will also come up with an overall flags solution that, while not pleasing everyone, will be seen as an effort to create a solution. Certainly, Armagh and Banbridge councils of the past seem to have studiously avoided the divisions that have rocked this part of the new super council.

And perhaps the nationalist areas of the town could come to some sort of compromise over the tricolours that flutter from lampposts all year round, although theirs don’t seem to suffer the same in-tatters fate of the Union flags.

Compromise must be tempered with realism, and Regenerate is to be complimented on helping find a solution that flags are flown at the appropriate times, are removed before they fall apart, and are renewed when deemed appropriate.

It’s another welcome step on the torturous road to normality.