Today the Northern Ireland Assembly will debate the contentious issue of placing (or not placing) the Union Flag on Driving Licenses.
Three things are certain. I will not get to speak because the ‘parties of government’ will line up to oppose each other. Secondly, the debate will resolve absolutely nothing because a petition of concern has been lodged by Sinn Fein and the SDLP. Thirdly, the debate will reinforce the public’s negative views of politics and politicians.
When …considering the issue of including the Union Flag on driving licenses, I recognise that a great number of people have a need or desire to express their national identity through the display of the flag of their country (whatever they may consider that to be), whilst another group exists who are either comfortable in their own nationality without the need for a public demonstration or are entirely ambivalent on the whole issue and view other issues as much more important.
In Northern Ireland we have a unique set of circumstances that mean we must be adaptable and recognise the differences that exist in our shared society whilst providing mechanisms to reflect these differences.
When preparing this motion I wonder if the authors have considered the other areas in which legislation and mechanisms in Northern Ireland vary from Great Britain.
Are the DUP suggesting that any “deviation from UK wide schemes” is a threat to current constitutional arrangements and by that logic would they endorse legislation that currently exists in England, Scotland and Wales but not here in Northern Ireland? For example water charges, equal marriage, blood donation, same sex adoption- is legislation necessary in those areas to properly reflect their ‘Britishness’?
The inconvenient reality for those of us that want to remain in the United Kingdom is that waving a flag simply isn’t enough. We must persuade those of an opposing view of the benefits of remaining in the Union whilst at the same time recognising and respecting an alternative viewpoint. Attitudes and behaviour on both so-called ‘sides’ must appreciate the diversity in what is still a politically divided society. The challenge to unionists (with a small ‘u’) is to recognise that divisiveness on politically sensitive issues does nothing to further their cause or to embrace and promote diversity.