There have been a letter or two in most North Irish newspapers, a comment or two on political websites and a tweet or two nearly every day for the last eight weeks on the subject of flags and emblems.
Some comments are along the line “there is nothing wrong with my flag, my side has had it for years – it’s my tradition and others just need to get used to it”. This attitude has been around for centuries and has never succeeded, either way. The one characteristic that everyone on this island shares, to a world-class degree, is stubbornness. We will not be pushed into anything. Persisting with this approach, which has failed for centuries, will therefore continue to fail. It would be a guarantee of continuing strife.
Other comments are along the lines “just fly the Union Flag and the Irish Tricolour side by side. I can follow my tradition and they can follow theirs”. This approach accepts that North Ireland is a divided society. But it also sends a message to everyone here and everyone around the world that the North Irish believe that a divided society is acceptable. It says that continuing division and segregation are good enough for our children’s future, that integration is impossible. It is a defeatist attitude, even if it can be justified, on the evidence of today’s disturbances, as being realistic.
A few comments just say “a plague on all flags, ban them altogether”. As the Americans found, to their huge and lasting cost, prohibition did not work. Prohibiting things in Ireland, whether language, dress, dissenter schooling, Catholic Mass or marriage outside the established church has never worked in the past. The North Irish are all as stubborn today as they were when these prohibitions were tried, so banning all flags stands no practical chance of success.
Finally there are comments along the lines “we need a new emblem that everyone can live with”. If all the other options to deal with our emblems have no chance of success, then surely, this option deserves very careful though and attention.
For a new emblem to have any chance of working it has to represent the things that everyone in North Ireland today actually shares.
For a start, we share the same spaces. We may live in segregated places, but we all visit the same places, whether mountains, beaches, parks, hills, valleys, castles and nature in general. We all share a landscape.
We all breathe the same air, drink the same water and eat the same food, including local produce of good quality. We all share an environment on which we depend.
We also all share, in common with the rest of our species across the planet, a hope for a better future for our children. The fundamentals of what the most extreme Loyalist and most extreme Irish Republican want for their children are the same. Whether their children’s future is in the United Kingdom or a United Ireland they both want, for their children, our children, good health and contentment (well-being or happiness in the language of Francis Hutcheson). Roger Waters, whose father died in the second World War fighting for what he believed in, captures these aspirations in The Gunner’s Dream (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghFN1UFtQho).
Could we find an emblem that represents our unique landscape, the crucial importance of our environment and our shared hopes for our children? Could we also think of this emblem as representing a set of mutual values that apply to individual people? Such an emblem would be equally valid under any jurisdiction. It could be worn by people with integrity right through any change of national flag on public buildings.
My suggestion is:
The shape should be one that is difficult to hang from a lamp post – say an oval, with the long axis horizontal. It is to be an emblem of personal allegiance, not a territorial boundary marker.
The predominant colours of our landscape and environment are the green of the land, the blue of the sky and the white of the clouds. How about the bottom third of the oval being green below a wavy line and the top two thirds, above the wavy line, being blue and, in this blue sky, a smaller white oval? This white oval represents the shared hopes of future well-being for our children.
These three colours contain two thirds of the colours of the Union Flag and two thirds of the colours of the Irish Tricolour, not that this should matter.
Are there any artists out there who could draw something following these suggestions? Are there any other suggestions? Could the resulting emblem become a lapel badge that all those who put their children’s future health and happiness as a higher priority than any flag or jurisdiction could wear with quiet pride, sure in the knowledge that no offence would be taken as no offence would be intended? Could it be worn by supporters of every political party to remind our politicians to stop poking each other in the eye, to stop horse-trading hugely important policies and to focus on the things that will bring about a better future for our children?