By Jamie Bryson
In the Bill, next before the House of Lords on Wednesday, there is a new Part 7A of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. In this Part at 78F (2) (b) the following provision is included as part of the ‘national and cultural identity principles’:
“…the principle that public authorities should encourage and promote reconciliation, tolerance and meaningful dialogue between those with different national and cultural identities with a view to promoting parity of esteem, mutual respect and understanding, and cooperation.” (emphasis added).
Pursuant to 78F (1) of this Part, public authorities- as a legal requirement- must have “due regard” to this principle.
In 1998, Gerry Adams wrote: “Specifically, as part of the total restructuring of relationships one of the difficult issues to be tackled is that of cultural symbols and of flags and emblems. The institutional and official ethos of the northern state is British. This has to change. We must ensure that there is parity of esteem and a just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of all our people. This cannot be simply an illusion. It must be the reality. The responsibility for this change rests primarily with the British government.
He continued “In practical terms where British national or cultural symbols are displayed on public buildings or in working environments equal prominence should be given to Irish national or cultural symbols as an immediate expression of parity of esteem.
This includes working environments associated with the exercise of public authority – Council offices, courts, police service sites, civil service offices and QUANGOS. In all other worksites, neutral working environments should be rigorously created or maintained.
“It means that an Irish-language version of all forms in regular use by the public should be provided if the forms are not already bilingual. Public authorities should be required to adopt a bilingual approach to public signs as happens in the Twenty-Six Counties, in Wales and in parts of Scotland.
“It also means that oaths or declarations of allegiance required of civil service employees should be replaced by neutral formulations.
“These are just some of the minimum requirements if we are to begin to address this issue in a comprehensive manner.”
This nationalist objective is not about equality of treatment between persons, requiring that those who identify as nationalist should be treated equally with those who identify as unionist, and vice versa. There is no one who would seriously suggest that any person should be treated unequally from other citizens because of their identity, or for any other reason.
At first reading, Adams’ clever use of wording could lead the reader to believe this nationalist objective is about securing equal treatment for people, but it is not.
It seeks parity of esteem not for all people, but rather “…the identity, ethos and aspirations of all our people.”
It is the political identity which nationalism demands must have parity, not the person who identifies with it. It is important to understand this distinction. There is no one suggesting Mr X must be afforded anything other than equal treatment regardless of identity, rather the objection is to the identity itself being treated in parity.
Put simply; nationalism present their parity of esteem demand as seeking equality for the messenger, but really it is equality for the message that they seek. This is how the ‘equality agenda’ is used to advance political objectives until the cloak of ‘civil rights’.
Therefore, the logical outworking is that the State must recognise the Irish National identity on the same terms as the British identity. This is utterly absurd, and in fact is a means of subverting the principle of consent in so far as it seeks to dilute the substance of the constitutional guarantee.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Therefore, Northern Ireland’s national identity is that of the United Kingdom. The existence of a competing national identity cannot dislodge this constitutional fact, however that is precisely what nationalism- aided by the ‘Identity and Culture’ principles in this Bill- seeks to secure.
The nationalist agenda is to conflate parity between persons of differing identities, with parity between the national identities themselves. This is the ‘Trojan horse’, which Adams’ informed us was out to “break the b**tards” (us, unionists).
This agenda has a key objective, and that is to diluting the primacy of the British identity of Northern Ireland, slowly eroding it and creating symbolically a Northern Ireland which is a hybrid British-Irish state, recognised- in symbolism at least- by all public authorities as such.
In the same article I have quoted from extensively, Adams’ spoke of how nationalism view the Belfast Agreement. He said: “Any agreement which might emerge next week will be viewed by Sinn Fein in the context of a rolling process, a transitional process which opens up the potential for further change and progress towards our republican goals.”
Therefore, nationalists do not- and never did- accept the status quo, even whilst it remains, preserved via the principle of consent.
Their demand is that the Agreement requires the incremental dilution of our constitutional position, inclusive of every symbolic expression of Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom.
It isn’t difficult to see where this is heading. Indeed, reading Adams’ 1998 article and setting it alongside the Identity and Culture principles makes the direction of travel patently obvious.
Placing a duty on public bodies to have due regard to principles which at their core require the promotion of parity of esteem not between persons, but between identities and aspirations. This cannot do anything other than act as Trojan horse to secure the flying of the Irish flag alongside the Union flag on public buildings.
I can guarantee that within a year, the nationalist position will be that having due regard to the relevant principles requires public authorities to fly both the Union flag and Irish flag, or no flags at all.
And then a test case will be identified, with legal action brought trying to broaden the scope of the relevant duty (although the relevant duty is already broad enough to satisfy nationalism’s objectives).
This is all obvious, hidden in plain sight. Indeed, simply read Adams’ words in 1998, view them in the context of the ‘rolling process’ he describes, and then tell me how anyone could reasonably fail to see the inherent danger within this Bill?
How can it be that such a dangerous Clause within this Bill has thus far slipped by largely unnoticed?
I would urge all unionists/loyalists to lobby your MPs and indeed members of the House of Lords and call on them to seek to amend (or better still, reject) the Bill.
There is, at the very least, no excuse for not standing up in the House of Commons or the Lords and highlighting this most obvious fatal flaw in the Bill, and in consequence seeking to encourage others to join in resisting its passage into law.