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Friday, 7 December 2012

Some thoughts on the violent protests around the decision to fly the union flag on designated days and responses to some of the reactions in the media and social networking sites.

Firstly, I 100% support the right to peaceful protest or other democratic ways of making one's oppisiton felt to a political decision, but completely condemn the attacks on Alliance party offices, homes of councillors and now death threats against Alliance and Sinn Fein elected politicians.

To those who say: 'well, what did they expect' need think about the following:

1) the decision to fly the union flag over city hall on designated days was a democratic decision, some may not agree with it, but nonetheless it was a democratic decision taken by those empowered to do so.  Therefore to violently protest against democratic decision is an anti-democratic act and a threat to democracy.  It sends out the message that it does not matter if a decision with which you disagree with has been made democratically, you reserve the right to violently protest and therefore threaten democracy.  The message of such implied threats is to prevent and bully decision-makers into making decisions that the bullies want.

Every week on North Down Council decisions are made by the majority on council with which I disagree, sometimes very strongly disagree.  That's democracy - or at least majoritiarian democracy in action. If those who object to the decision by Belfast City Council want to reverse that democratically made decision, well rather than bully and threaten the Alliance party, they should work towards making sure that at the next local council elections there are more unionist councillors there to constitute a democratic majority to implement their wishes.  That's the democratic way.  

2) there is an implicit or explicit threat in the 'well what did they expect' line of argument.  Basically, it's the same argument used by criminals who say 'well, what did she expect, she was wearing a short skirt' or they left their wallet out.  That is, to blame the victim and accept no responsibility for their own actions and it is completely abhorrent that this line of argument should be used by anyone, least of all elected unionist politicians.  It explicitly communicates the view that what those councillors who took the decision should have done on Monday was thought, 'well there may/will be violence if we decide to fly the flag on designated days, so that's what we'll do, give in to the threat'...this way violence and the threat of violence wins, democracy loses.

Democracy is about having to live with decisions you don't agree with. Democracy is also about non-vioenelty disagreeing.  Real leadership at this time is about reinforcing both of those basic points.

There are also issues I have raised in relation to the connection between the flying of the union flag and identity or celebration of a particular culture.  As I put it in a press statement I put out this week (but which has not been taken up in the media)    

“A confident sense of identity should be based on the Good Friday Agreement which established that the union is secure and underpinned by the consent principle, and the international legal obligations of this are accepted by both the Irish and British governments. 

“I look forward to the day when as a society we can develop a more positive sense of identity based not simply on the flying of a flags, but for example on celebrating and defending the key principals  of democracy such as healthcare free at the point of delivery and defence of the most vulnerable society through fair welfare benefits.”

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