I moved to East Belfast just over two years ago, and was surprised at how few flags went up in my area in July. This year, to my even greater surprise, there are no flags or bunting at the Strandtown shops. We have an Australian visitor staying with us. A couple of weeks ago we drove home that way and I remarked to her that if the area stayed flag-free I would interpret it as a victory for gentrification. Either that or the frighteningly efficient Alliance election team got back out there overnight and took the whole lot down.
Nowadays, I wonder if overt displays of loyalism are becoming more exclusively the sign of disadvantaged areas. And of course this raises the question of how the state and ‘community representatives’ in these areas should respond. Currently, funding is available to turn the Eleventh Night into a community festival as long as you avoid overt paramilitary displays and take the tyres off the bonfire. But money is getting tighter and state rewards for (temporary) good behaviour may disappear in the next few years. I would have thought it wasn’t the time to mark out your territory as a no-go area for anyone who doesn’t share your identity and heritage. Why on earth would anyone invest in Ballyclare after this week’s riots, or in inner East Belfast with its new ‘gateway’ murals?
If the gangsters who still dominate some of the poorer areas in Northern Ireland really do have the interests of their community at heart, they will realise there is no point in continuing to orchestrate violence and sectarian ill-will around the Twelfth. But if their aim is to intimidate the majority of people in these neighbourhoods for their own ends, then this behaviour will continue and the majority in these neighbourhoods will suffer as a result.