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Reasons given for flag protests don’t stack up – Gerry Kelly

8 January, 2013 - by Gerry Kelly

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said that reasons given by loyalist and unionists for the flag protests and associated violence don’t stack up.

The North Belfast MLA said:

“The protesters and unionist/loyalist representatives have stated that this is about more than the flag but is a chipping away at their British identity, as Mike Nesbitt has phrased it.

“The trappings and the symbols within the City Hall and indeed throughout the North put paid to that claim. The place is coming down with symbols representative of Britain.

“We had the same claims during the marching season when challenges by residents on a handful of contentious marches was an attack on their parades. This despite the fact that thousands of such parades take place each summer, indeed all year, without any objections.

“That claim of an attack on unionist culture during the summer whipped up considerable tension and ended in violence.

“We also have claims of neglect, social exclusion and poverty within working class unionist areas. I accept this is the case but statistics don’t tell lies and 36 of the top 40 most deprived wards in the North are in nationalist areas. We need to deal with all social deprivation wherever it is.

“Education or the failure of it in working class unionist areas has also been brought into the mix. For years Sinn Féin has highlighted the fact that working class protestant boys are being failed by educational arrangements, which Unionist representatives have fought vehemently to retain, namely ‘selection’.

“All these reasons given for unionists discontent just don’t stack up.

“What we haven’t heard from unionists is mention of equality and mutual respect. If symbols and cultural expressions are to be treated equally then unionists must recognise that we are coming from a time when it was all one-sided.

“That is no longer the case. There needs to be a discussion on how people’s Irishness or Britishness and those of other national identities can be respected and valued.

“We can make a start to that discussion with flags but it is far wider than that and takes in the Irish language and the Loyal Order parades. Republicans and nationalists are open to that discussion, are unionists and loyalists?”

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