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Your editorial, ‘Why can’t we learn from history?’ prompts the suggestion that the writer revisits history and engages with opinion in the North before reaching for the empty cliché and worn stereotype.
For over 100 years, 365 days a year, the Union flag has flown over Belfast City Hall. Belfast is a shared city, a sizeable nationalist community has always contributed to financing the services of the council and building the city. However, the cultural and national alliances of nationalism have not been recognised and reflected in the council. At times nationalists have been excluded, repressed and discriminated against by that council.
History tells us that such abuse of power and inequality, if un-addressed, leads to conflict. Successful court challenges and hard won equality legislation have limited the excesses of unionism on the council, but continued flying of the flag of one community contradicts the ethos and understanding of existing equality legislation.
Nationalism sought to have a shared City Hall, one that represented all the citizens of Belfast. Sinn Féin policy on this is clear: symbols should be either equalised or neutralised. Respect and equality are the cornerstone of our approach. We either give equal prominence to all symbols or we seek to create a neutral environment.
So, Sinn Féin councillors brought forward a motion to end the tradition of flying the flag of only one section of the Belfast community.
The current practice of flying the Union flag on 17 days a year did not come about by agreement as suggested in your editorial. It was imposed by Westminster, at the behest of unionists who refused to agree a protocol with nationalist representatives. There is no reciprocal agreement that would see a nationalist flag fly on a public building on any day.
Recent violence was not the result of an, “atavistic gene”, but rather the outworking of a failed political ideology that seeks to assert one view over all others. Responsibility for the violence rests with those who committed the acts and those that called them out onto the streets. It was a failure by political unionism to live up to the responsibility of leadership and instead to retreat to the lowest common denominator.
Sinn Féin has worked to promote equality, reconciliation and respect. Sinn Féin and the people that we represent in the North have experienced exclusion and discrimination. We have no interest in empty symbolism or revenge as suggested by your editorial. Our vision goes beyond that of the editorial, which seeks only tolerance. We are about creating equality and respect for cultural differences. If history teaches us anything it is that peace and prosperity must be built on equality and respect.
Sinn Féin TD
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