Thanks to the SDLP political stunt in Belfast City Council, a divisive debate has now erupted around a proposal to invite the Republic of Ireland national football team to a joint civic reception with the national team of Northern Ireland.
This proposal once again demonstrates the flaws within the ambiguous Belfast Agreement.
To Nationalists the agreement reads that Irishness has parity with Britishness and those who wish to identify as Irish then take from this that the National flag of the Republic of Ireland, the National football team and other symbols or bodies have a parity with the sovereign flag of the United Kingdom or the National football team of Nothern Ireland, among other things.
This is simply not the case. The Belfast Agreement enshrines the right of Nationalists to identify with the symbols of Irishness and to hold a political aspiration for a United Ireland- nowhere does it read that his aspiration translates into altering the sovereign constitutional position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.
The Belfast Agreement guarantees and protects the right of Nationalists to self identify as Irish and to identify with the symbols or culture that represents that political ideology.
Whilst this ensures that Nationalists within Northern Ireland can hold an Irish passport, claim allegiance to the Irish flag or support the ROI national team or sportspersons, it does not give any legal parity to this political aspiration in relation to the sovereign symbols or constitutional position of Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK for as long as the majority of people wish for it to do so. That is the principle of consent.
This debate demonstrates the fundamental flaw with the Belfast Agreement, Nationalists read it one way and Unionists read it another. It is wedded together with enough constructive ambiguity to mean all things to all people.
Nationalists have attempted to harness the constructive ambiguity in relation to the right to identify as Irish, and to have this right treated with equality, and fuse it with the entirely different principle of sovereignty and the fact that the principle of consent ensures that Northern Ireland currently remains part of the United Kingdom.
By fusing the two issues Nationalists seek to chip at the sovereign symbols of Britishness within Northern Ireland under the guise of ‘equality’ for the Irish identity.
The legal protections for Nationalists right to self-identify as Irish and to hold their chosen political aspiration should not be misinterpreted as a legal right to demand that the sovereign symbols of Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, should be viewed as equal with the symbols of those who chose to hold a political aspiration to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom.
Legal protection for ones identity and political aspirations does not translate into a legal right to have this aspiration realised. The only legal way to alter the constitutional position of Northern Ireland is via the principle of consent.
The Northern Ireland football team is the only National team within this jurisdiction. And whilst those who identify as Irish have a legally protected right to say they identify with the Republic of Ireland team and to aspire for an all Ireland, this does not change the fact that Northern Ireland is a sovereign part of the United Kingdom therefore the national team of this country has primacy.
If Belfast City Council wish to recognise the achievements of the Republic of Ireland, due to the fact that many people claim allegiance to that team, then they should invite the Republic of Ireland to a seperate event to recognise the achievements of a team from a foreign jurdiscition.
To bring both teams together is another attempt to use sport to force forward the all-Ireland political agenda and create some illusion that both teams have equal standing in relation to the international constitutional position of this country. They do not.
The SDLP and Sinn Fein, supported by the Alliance party, are intent on continuing to use cheap political stunts as part of their ongoing attempt to fuse equality for identity and political aspirations to demanding parity in terms of sovereign symbols. It is all part of the wider cultural war, which was spawned from the ambiguity of the shameful Belfast Agreement.