Monday, 29 June 2009

All victims deserve equality

Last week I was very honoured and equally humbled to sit in on a meeting between representatives of Relatives for Justice and the current Mayor of Belfast Naomi Long.

The meeting had been facilitated by Sinn Féin Councillors Paul Maskey and current deputy Mayor Danny Lavery.

The meeting was requested in light of the 27th of June being declared as ‘Armed Forces Day’ in Britain. At committee level it was proposed that the City Council here in Béal Feirste fly the ‘Armed Forces’ flag from the city hall for a number of days in the run up the date. An amendment from the Alliance Party saw this proposal change from a number of days down to just one day. In relation to this matter I must agree with one of the family members who put it directly to the Mayor that one day of hurt was just as bad as seven days of hurt; a hurt is still a hurt.
I suppose that brings us to the core issue, articulated so well by the families during the meeting. The civic institutions of this city, our city, a shared city, are not reflective of the nationalist/republican experience or indeed the experience of those families who have lost loved ones as a result of collusion and state violence. The trappings of city hall for example, are the trappings of domination and militaristic oppression. The very same regiment responsible for the murder of Belfast citizens is honoured with its very own window in the heart of city hall. No such window exists for those 70 children murdered by the British State.

As we move forward in society I don’t believe that any right thinking person would try to deny the Unionist community of their past and of their right to remember their loved ones; RFJ made it very clear that that was not their intention and never would be. We need to create the space where everyone’s legitimate and genuine experience of hurt and loss is remembered within civic Belfast.

The flying of an ‘Armed Forces’ flag from the city hall is offensive to the Nationalist and Republican community and most likely to those forgotten families within the Loyalist/Unionist communities who lost loved ones as a result of collusion and state murder. I think most people would have hoped that following the RIR’s March of Shame through the centre of the city, Belfast City Council would have at the very least acknowledged the potential hurt these issues can inflict and take the feelings of victims of state violence and collusion into account. On this occasion it would seem that they did not. On Thursday representatives of those families gathered at the City Hall to remember their loved ones, to show the world that the experience of the British Army and the occupation of Ireland from within the Nationalist/Republican community has been a traumatic, hurtful and at times a truly shattering one.
You can view a video of that protest here

I hope that last weeks meeting was indeed the beginning of a process to bring about space for our shared hurt and our shared experiences of conflict. As it stands Belfast City Hall and other locations show nothing of my outlook on life, of my culture, nor is it reflective of the community and situations from which I come. I can only imagine the hurt and pain the flying of this flag, as well as all the other militaristic trappings of city hall cause to those families, given the offence it causes me. I commend their dignity and ability to want to move forward so bravely and in not wanting to dilute anyone’s experience or feelings, simply create the space required for their own, within their own city. You can learn much more at

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