The Confederate battle flag has been a very hot topic in the USA lately, since photos of a self-avowed white supremacist who allegedly murdered nine people in North Carolina have surfaced featuring the suspect with the flag. Americans have been doing some soul searching about how casual many white Americans are about a flag that has been used by white supremacist groups since the Civil War. While some white Americans argue that the Confederate flag is not a hate symbol, some loyalists in Northern Ireland apparently disagree and feel it is an entirely appropriate symbol of their hatred for others who do not share their heritage. Flags and political symbols are omnipresent in Northern Ireland as a way of marking territory nationalist or loyalist.
An East Belfast football coach was heralded as a hero across social media recently when he pulled down a Confederate flag hung on a lamppost outside a young Black footballer’s home. The club’s management posted the following statement on their Facebook page:
“As a club we want to place on record that we aren’t concerned about the history lessons, or even the intentions that motivated the flag being put up in the first place. We were however completely concerned about the negative effect that the flag was having on one of our kids and any right minded person would be seriously unhinged not to agree that the right thing to do was to take that flag down. We would also like to place on record that senior management were part of the group of four club members who went round to take this flag down.”
Note the Irish agility at avoiding any debate about the controversial flag’s history or meaning, and the equally Irish focus on an individual’s well-being.
This isn’t an isolated incident in the North. The Belfast Telegraph has reported that a Confederate flag and a Nazi flag are flying alongside the British flag and the flag of a loyalist militia at a site used for bonfires on July 12th. July is a volatile month in Northern Ireland with several loyalist marches and bonfires. Many Northerners take vacations at this time to avoid the frequent violence, yet the PSNI has not removed any of the Confederate flags or the Nazi flag despite complaints about them. According to the Belfast Telegraph, an Alliance Party MLA called on the Orange Order to publically renounce the flags, and the Orange Order replied that they were not responsible for the flags.
Regardless of how people view the Confederate flag in the USA, in Northern Ireland certain groups have obviously picked up on its power as a symbol of hate and are using to intimidate others. Many in Northern Ireland on all sides of the political issues have worked hard for long years to cultivate an environment of welcome and respect for all, and that is the overwhelming feeling visitors get in the North for most of the year. It is tragic to see a minority searching for symbols of hate from other countries to use against their own neighbours so many years after the Good Friday Agreement.