Symbols and Marches: Your Consent?

4 July 2000


The Executive was restored on 29 May 2000. So the Agreement is up and running again. Yet we still have problems. In this leaflet we raise some of these: flags and emblems, marching, and the principle of consent. How do you feel about these?

Flags and emblems
Unionists argue that since Northern Ireland remains part of the UK under the Agreement, Republicans should at least tolerate the flag of the country in which they reside.
Republicans and many Nationalists, for their part, still want a United Ireland. So many have no allegiance to Northern Ireland. They argue the Agreement gives them equality. So either we fly both the Union flag and the Tricolour over Government buildings, or neither.
The parties who accepted the Agreement committed themselves to use symbols and emblems `in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division'.


1. For Unionists

Why is it necessary to fly the flag of the State over police stations?
To what extent are flags used by Loyalists as a weapon against each other rather than as a celebration of Britishness?

2. For Nationalists

Under the Agreement there will be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the
majority, North and South. Since Republicans have accepted this, what is the problem with accepting the flag of the UK?
In what way is it right to be part of a Government while not accepting the symbols of the State on whose behalf the Government governs?

3. Questions for all of us

Should there be a new flag or symbol for Northern Ireland? If so, how would it show respect for different identities?
In your local area how much are flags used to express national identity, or to mark out territory?
Rows over marching are a symptom of deep and complex disagreements. Drumcree is an example, but the problem is much wider.

Unionist feelings

Many of us are at breaking point and feel we've given all we can:
- Early release of prisoners
- Marches re-routed
- Power-sharing
- North-South structures
- Sinn Fein in government
We could have swallowed some of these, but not all.
We get blamed for violence, like Drumcree, even though we were not responsible.
Republicans caused murder and mayhem for 30 years, yet in the end their prisoners walked free.
It doesn't matter if we our parades are peaceful or not: either way the Parades Commission re-routes us. So what incentive do we have to try to control others' violence?
Every re-routed parade is one more piece of territory lost to us. Soon there will be nothing left.
Where is the parity of esteem for our identity and religion?
Protest groups by residents are simply a cover for Republicans.
Other Unionists take a different view (and divisions run deep among Unionists). They feel the Orange Order's refusal
to compromise is a major block in the parades issue. They also believe the Order has lost sight of its religious values
by concentrating on political issues: `It's not the Order we joined, and because of this many of us are leaving, even
though this really pains us'.

Nationalist feelings

Orangemen march through our areas like we don't exist. We feel oppressed and humiliated.
Orange marches are triumphalist and blatantly anti-Catholic.
We resent the refusal of Orangemen to talk to us. If they treated us with respect we wouldn't object to marches.
Every time the British beat us off the road they give into the Orange veto.
We don't want to march through Protestant areas, and we couldn't if we wanted to. Why treat Orangemen differently?
Where is the parity of esteem in marches?
Loyalist paramilitaries are using marches to intimidate Catholics.
Other Nationalists do not feel as strongly about marches. They say: `They have always been there, so why not accept them?'

Questions for Unionists

Will you ever be able to march in peace without building a relationship with Nationalists and Republicans?
Do you understand the feelings of Nationalists opposed to violence who resent Orange marches going through Nationalist areas?
Questions for Nationalists

Do you understand the feelings of Orangemen who see their marches as genuinely religious?
Are Orange marches in Nationalist areas a symbol of triumph or of insecurity?
Questions for all of us

Both Unionists and Nationalists feel anger, humiliation and rejection around marches. Why?
Why have so many Unionists and Nationalists wrecked their own areas in riots over this issue?
If you do not accept Parades Commission decisions what other body should make the decisions?
How can you minimise any negative impact that your parade or protest will have on other areas?
3. The Principle of Consent

The principle of consent was part of the Agreement. Under it Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK unless and until the greater number of people, North and South, decide otherwise.

Questions for Unionists

Do you accept the principle of consent? If so, what do you mean by it?
Does the principle of consent mean Unionists should tolerate Nationalist symbols?
What does the principle require in terms of obeying the laws of Northern Ireland? Questions for Nationalists?

Does the principle of consent mean that you have accepted that Northern Ireland's primary political identity for the time being is British? If not, why not?
Given that you have accepted the principle of consent in the Agreement what duties do you have towards the State in Northern Ireland?
Questions for all of us

Do you feel bound by decisions made by the Executive and the Assembly? If not, to what democratic body do you give your consent?
Will the Executive survive if the wider community do not resolve disputes over flags and marches?
What can YOU do within your local area to reduce tensions this summer?
The summer is often a difficult time in Northern Ireland. It doesn=t have to be that way. What can you do to make it different?


Community Dialogue is made up of community workers from across the divide. As a group we do not take positions on party-political issues. However, if we want to make peace in Northern Ireland we have to talk. Not just any old talk: rather talk that involves questioning ourselves, listening to others, and trying genuinely to see new angles on things.

We invite you to make your voice heard. Why not discuss the questions in this leaflet with your friends or work colleagues? You could also invite people from backgrounds different from your own to join you in discussion. If you wish, you can send your answers, ideas and other suggestions to us at Community Dialogue and we will send them on to the relevant authorities or politicians.

Remember: it is up to us to make the future!