Friday, April 06, 2007


Today in History - Flags and Emblems Act

It was on this day, 6th of April, 1954, that The Flags & Emblems Act, an act of the Northern Ireland parliament, was passed in NI which legislated against interference with the Union Jack and effectively prohibited the display of the Irish tricolour in the North.

The Act gave the sectarian Royal Ulster Constabulary the right to remove any flag or emblem which it deemed likely to cause a breach of the peace.

As it safeguarded the Union Jack, disputes erupted around the time of the British monarchy's coronation celebrations when British flags were erected in nationalist areas against the wishes of the inhabitants.

The reason why I think this is an important event to reflect upon is because today also happens to be the birthday of one Ian Paisley. In 1964, ten years on from the appearance of this act, it was Ian Paisley who was at the centre of the most notable event involving the enforcement of this act. Incensed that the Republican Billy McMillen had placed an Irish tricolour in his election office in the Lower Falls area, Paisley threatened the RUC warning them that if the flag was not removed, he and his supporters would march on the office and remove it themselves.

Unsurprisingly, the RUC, armed to the teeth with rifles, stun-guns, batons and crowbars, smashed down the doors of McMillen's election HQ and removed the tricolour. The following day the IRA replaced the flag in the window and police attacked a crowd of unarmed citizens who had gathered to support McMillen.

It's hard to believe that the man who was laughing and joking with the Taoiseach the other day was the same man who, in 1964,organised a riot purely because of a symbol that he did not support himself.

You've not got a flag around have ye?
Hide your flag Bertie!

The Irish tricolour's symbolism involves the white (representing peace) at the centre of the green (Catholics) and orange (Protestants) so you can just imagine the pathetic scenes as the RUC stormed into that election office to rip that piece of cloth from the people inside. One especially wonders what Paisley would have done to that flag had he got his hands on it. I bet he would have burned the thing.

You can picture him and his merry band of bigots cheering and applauding as the harmless bit of material disintegrated into a clump of ashes. Some of them would have stomped on the remains. Some perhaps would have spat on it. Totally clueless the lot of 'em.

What the bigots didn't realise then is that the flag itself is irrelevant. It's the message which is important. You can burn one flag, one hundred flags, one thousand flags, but the message contained in that flag's make-up is something that cannot ever be turned to ash and dust. That message is this - that Catholics and Protestants should live together as one.

That is why the tricolour returned to that office. That is why the British government in 1987 repealed the stupid, sectarian act. That is why tricolours continue to fly across the North - we the Irish people will not be suppressed. Not now, not then, not ever.

I'm sure 'Big Ian' will receive many fine presents on this day. Many grand gifts befitting a man of his stature. Some clothes. Some cards. Some cutlery. Maybe even some champagne. All fine gifts, all to his satisfaction I'm sure.

What would I give him though? I'd give him three things - a tricolour, a lighter and a note saying the following...

"Burn away Big Man. We've got plenty more where that came from."


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