‘Bigots’ label is a cause of concern

The committee recommended UK soldiers be protected
The committee recommended UK soldiers be protected

Feelings of alienation in unionist communities were voiced at a public meeting of the Flags and Culture Commission, held in Ballycarry last week.

The village was selected as the East Antrim venue for the last in a series of public meetings being held by the Commission to discuss a wide range of cultural issues in Northern Ireland.

During round table discussions, some of those present voiced concerns that unionist culture was being eroded.

One woman said that she felt Protestants were being made to feel bigots for putting up flags or having traditional Eleventh Night bonfires.

Discussions also included views on the proposed Irish Language Act, parades, bands culture, education, bonfires and how the media deals with unionist culture.

Examples of good practice in cultural commemoration which were cited included the Ulster-Scots Broadisland Gathering festival in the village, how marching bands support charity, and how the local council has hosted an Irish Language Week.

The meeting was attended by representatives from local community groups in the area, Orange and Black lodges, churches, bands members and individuals from Carrick, Larne, Glynn, Islandmagee and Ballycarry.

The 15 strong Commission was represented by six of its Commissioners including both joint chairs, Dr. Dominic Bryan and Mr. Neville Armstrong.

Dr. Bryan outlined in a presentation the background to the Commission – which was established in June last year by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister - and the body of work which was being undertaken.

He detailed that the Commission is comprised of political party representatives and independent Commissioners appointed through public selection.

The meeting was told that the Commission aims to report with recommendations on cultural issues by the end of this year.

Those present were asked four questions about culture, including what barriers people felt existed to culture being celebrated in Northern Ireland, what examples of good practice existed and how Northern Ireland could be moved forward to a place where all cultures were respected and enjoyed.

People were divided into round table groups, where wide ranging discussions took place.

Following the discussions each table then fed back on what discussions had taken place and the points that had been raised.

Among those present were several local elected representatives; Gordon Lyons MLA, Cllr. Robert Logan, Alderman Gregg McKeen, Cllr. Andy Wilson and Cllr. Noel Jordan.

The meeting was one of a series which had been held across Northern Ireland and the only one which has taken place in a village community.

The local community association took the opportunity to display some of its unique townland banners during the event, highlighting the heritage of the local rural and village townlands.

The group has previously made a written submission to the Commission, highlighting its views on flags, bonfires and the need for education in cultural heritage.