Letters to the Editor

‘Shared space' should not equate to ‘freedom to use as you wish'

The Ormeau Road area of south Belfast has evolved over the years to become a uniquely diverse community where people from different religions and cultural identities live side by side without the fear that this proximity would instil in many other areas.

Despite the diverse makeup of the residents within this shared space, the single-identity Union flags have only recently come down after being hoisted on every lamppost for four months. As happened last year, the only flag which was pointedly not removed remains flying on Sunnyside Street on the lamppost nearest the Catholic primary school. This solitary flag indicates the true purpose of such flag flying – marking territory and accentuating division.

Flags in mixed areas are a bleak reminder of how a minority are still allowed to force the majority to feel stuck in the past rather than free to embrace a respectful and diverse future beneficial to all. ‘Shared space’ should not equate to “freedom to use as you wish” but rather the emphasis should be on our civic duty to act in accordance with and respect of the wishes of everyone sharing the space. This is best achieved through an enforced regulatory process with accountability at its core.

Since the Good Friday Agreement sought to enshrine the principle of ‘parity of esteem’, hopes have been dashed, time wasted and money squandered on a series of unimplemented protocols and failed commitments to deal with the flag issue with specific provision for the Ormeau Road. As a result of this vacuum the majority of residents are forced each year to endure the imposition of single-identity flags.

In 2005 the PSNI, various government departments, the Housing Executive and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister signed up to a Joint Protocol around the ‘emotive’ issue of flag-flying. This protocol still offers the basis of a practical solution through flag regulation which seeks to balance cultural display with community protection. However, the protocol has merely gathered dust waiting for the collective will to implement its proposals.  

In 2014 the PSNI promised to treat the erection of flags in the area as a breach of the peace. This was widely welcomed as a sensible proactive approach to protect the majority of residents from the feeling of intimidation engendered by the flags themselves and abuse directed at residents who remonstrated with those erecting them. However, the PSNI inexplicably reneged on their commitment the following year.

Meanwhile, Transport NI enforces clear and consistent regulation forbidding “advertisements, pictures, letters, signs or marks” on roads. This detailed legislation conspicuously omits the word ‘flag’.

Through the implementation of the 2005 protocol or by simply adding ‘flags’ to Transport NI’s detailed policy, the issue of flag-flying on public lampposts could be resolved. South Belfast Residents for the Regulation of Flags challenges the PSNI, political parties and government bodies to actively protect shared space and diverse communities so that residents and businesses will no longer be subjected to the divisive imposition of single-identity flags.

SUZANNE O’NEILL
South Belfast for the Regulation
of Flags

 

ECNI quite rightly rebuked by the Supreme Court

The prolonged and inevitable result of the Ashers Bakery discrimination case has put the spotlight firmly on the Equality Commission (ECNI) and rightly so. 

While I doubt I would have little in common with Ashers, either religiously or politically, I am delighted they won the case, having to go all the way to the UK’s supreme court.

Reportedly, the first contact Ashers had from ECNI was when they received a letter saying they had been found guilty of discrimination and they must pay damages. This when they had heard only one side of the story. This is how the ECNI operates. 

You can look through the case studies on ECNI’s own website and find countless examples of small businesses being forced to pay up sums typically of  £7,000 to £10,000 to claimants, with no admission of guilt, in order to avoid the full might of the state coming down on them. One of the most recent examples being a SME found guilty of age discrimination because they wanted to hire a young person instead of a man in his sixties, with a view to having the person trained in all areas of the business for years to come. Various cases where companies wanted to hire people in work involving manual labour and were fined for discriminating against disabled people. Members of the travelling community seem to appear a lot in claims also.

While religious discrimination was something that was prevalent to a disgusting level in NI, even a generation that has now been addressed by law and is no longer the focus of ECNI.

Small/medium businesses are the lifeblood of the Northern Ireland economy. Why should they face constant threats from a large bunch of civil servants with little or no experience of running a productive SME business?

ECNI were rebuked quite rightly by the supreme court.

MICHAEL McELDUFF
Omagh, Co Tyrone

 

EU will crucify UK

Many politicians and commentators speak and write about how they expect the EU to eventually give the UK a fair deal.

Have they learned nothing from history? When our people voted in 1918 to exit Great Britain they waged a terrible war for almost three years followed by negotiations which insisted on unpalatable conditions such as partition, oath of allegiance, British ownership of ports and land annuities among other burdens like the Civil War. This was to discourage any other country in the British Empire from following suit. The 1918 election results were 75 seats for Sinn Féin and six for the Irish Parliamentary Party . Irish Unionists won just 22 seats. The majority vote to leave was massive compared to the 2018 UK Referendum with a 52 per cent to 48 per cent vote result.

Times have changed and ‘the boot is on the other foot’. The EU is the new empire and they will do everything in their power to avoid giving the UK a fair deal. Why? The EU wants to discourage other countries like Hungary, Greece, Poland from even contemplating leaving and thereby breaking up the new empire which is being steadily built in Brussels. So the logical conclusion is that the EU will crucify the UK if they can and will only make concessions they are forced to and which suit them.

I wish the UK well in their efforts to clinch a good deal. We may need it as much as them.

DONAL DONNELLY
Dundrum, Dublin 16 

 

Parties must commit to fight for life of unborn

Given that the British Labour Party, which refuses to stand here for election by the way, is desperate to inflict abortion onto the north’s unborn children and their mothers, and given again that one of that party’s ministers, Naz Shah MP, shadow minister for women and equality, has suddenly discovered that one of the nastiest consequences of Britain’s free-for-all abortion regime, female gendercide (the killing through abortion of unborn baby girls), is now happening in certain communities in Britain and that she is now campaigning against this, will the parties of Northen Ireland now commit to fight this discriminatory practice against women and their unborn baby girls to make sure it does not reach Northern Ireland?
Are you happy to let a woman who doesn’t want a baby girl abort that unborn child because of its gender, or, as in the rape issue, will you force that woman to bring her unwanted girl to full term?

JOHN AUSTIN
Limavady, Co Derry

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