It’s time to sweep away the contrived notion of ‘parity of esteem’

One of the most flawed parts of the Belfast Agreement is the contrived notion of parity of esteem. Parity means equality and esteem is defined as ‘to have high regard or great respect for’. This naturally creates the environment that allows the notion that those who aspire to Irish unity should have their political aspirations held in equal regard, in terms of state recognition, as the majority of people in Northern Ireland, whose wish is to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. 

This is a complete perversion of democracy. All individuals are entitled to the same rights, protections and equality under the law. There is no right, however, which grants those with a minority political aspiration to have the outworking of such an aspiration- such as flying of foreign flags etc. – receive formal Government recognition. There is no legitimate or lawful requirement for the expressions of any foreign identity to be held in parity with the sovereign flags and emblems of the United Kingdom. 

If we follow this claim of ‘parity of esteem’ through to its logical conclusion, then the Irish flag should have equal standing alongside the Union flag. The Irish National anthem should have equal standing alongside the National anthem of the United Kingdom, and the emblems of the British Armed Forces should be reduced to equal standing alongside those of the Irish Army. 

And the above examples lay bare the political motivations cloaked in the language of ‘parity of esteem’. If the sovereign symbols and expressions of identity are reduced to equivalence with those regarded as their own by the minority that deny the legitimacy of the State to govern, then the democratic wishes of the majority of people- to remain within the United Kingdom- are undermined via the backdoor. 

Once you accept the principle of parity of esteem, then the logical trajectory of such a process is joint-authority. If one accepts (which I never have) that there should be parity between expressions of sovereign Britishness and the minority aspiration of Irish unity, then it is only logical to conclude that both the Irish government and the British Government should govern Northern Ireland, in order to provide ultimate ‘parity of esteem’. This would be entirely unacceptable to the Unionist population.

Such a neutralising of sovereign identity is another staging post along the road to economic, cultural, security and governing harmonisation between North/South- a key strategic aim underpinning the political objective of obtaining Irish unification. 

‘Parity of esteem’ is a linguistic method of dressing up political aims, in the language of civil rights. The reality is that it is a political weapon used to further the political aim of those who seek to deny the democratic right of the elected Government of the United Kingdom to govern. It is not people that will be granted ‘parity of esteem’, but rather a political aspiration. It is important to make a distinction between the rights of each individual to be treated equally under the law, and held equally subject to the law, and the false claim that minority, or foreign,political symbols and identity should be afforded parity with the sovereign symbols and identity of the majority, who wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. If we follow, once again, the ‘parity of esteem’ logic, then why are other minority political aspirations not also afforded equal parity? 

Individuals have the right to hold and express their political opinion freely, even if such opinions do not recognise the right of the state to govern. Individuals or groups should not be discriminated against for holding such views; however they do not have the right to have such views formally recognised by the state or for their political denial of the same states legitimacy to govern, to be held equally alongside the democratic wishes of the majority. 

If British citizens are to have their democratic will of sovereignty held, by the state, in equivalence with the wishes of a minority that seek to deny such British citizenship, then that is an erosion of the democratic wishes of the majority, and as such undermines the very principle of democracy. 

All of the above works from the Nationalist viewpoint of the Belfast Agreement. Sinn Fein’s submission to the Haass talks in 2013 sought to refer to the Agreement as providing a duty of “Equality of treatment” on Public bodies. This, naturally, provides Nationalism with a spring board upon which to argue that cultural and sovereign expressions of Irishness should be held in parity with Britishness. 

The context of their submission on this point was an attempt to place a duty on Public bodies to adopt a policy of flying either the British and Irish flag, or no flags at all. This perverse suggestion should be utterly rejected. There cannot be parity, within the lawful territory of the United Kingdom, between the sovereign Union flag and any foreign flag. Whilst the “Equality or Neutrality” point was raised in relation to public bodies, it does shine a light upon the much wider strategy of Nationalism, designed to undermine every vestige of British culture and tradition within Northern Ireland. 

This is, of course, is one of the key flaws in the Belfast Agreement. It is so ambiguous on such matters, that it allows Nationalism to use the Agreement- which was sold as a ‘settlement’ to Unionism- as a Trojan horse process, upon which they can piggy-back towards Irish unity. A key part of this strategy is neutralising the sovereign cultural expressions, and campaigning for what is, in their mind, positive discrimination against the British majority within Northern Ireland. 

The Trojan horse targeting sovereignty, by the back door, is disguised under the aforementioned Sinn Fein policy of “equality or neutrality”. This is a carefully laid trap, designed to move Unionism and statutory bodies into an area whereby whatever decision is taken, it will undermine the prominence of the sovereign expressions of the majority. There is no duty on the sovereign Government of the United Kingdom to dilute, nor give official recognition to, the symbols of a foreign jurisdiction- which is now further separated by an EU land border. 

The issues arising from Brexit do much to undermine the Belfast Agreement and the parity of esteem argument, which is so cherished by Nationalism. Once Brexit finally officially takes place, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which are already separate jurisdictions, will be separated by an EU land border. Therefore it is impossible that Irish citizens of Northern Ireland, which is outside the EU, can have the same rights as Irish citizens within the Republic of Ireland, which remains within the EU. This drives a horse and cart through the ambiguous areas of the Belfast Agreement that Nationalism base their “equality or neutrality” strategy upon.

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Strategic legal victory for Bangor Protestant Boys 

The prosecution of four members of the Bangor Protestant Boys Flute Band, of which I am a member, is a sad indictment on the system and indeed further reflects the continuing attempts by the Policing and Justice apparatus to criminalise, and neutralise, expressions of culture.

The core trajectory of the failed Belfast Agreement pivots on the contrived notion of ‘harmonisation’. This, in essence, is the key of Nationalism’s strategy. It is dressed up under the guise of equality, which is, in Gerry Adam’s own words, the ‘trojan horse’. Harmonisation relies upon social, economic and cultural neutralisation.

For this strategy to be effective, and the peace ‘process’ to follow its pre-disposed roadmap towards Irish Unification- whether constitutionally or via the back-door of all-Ireland harmonisation- culture must be neutralised and neutered. Therefore it is no surprise to see that the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service- which was surrendered under the table at the Hillsborough agreement talks- are acting as the enforcement arm of this strategy, and as such criminalising all aspects of Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist cultural expression.  

Our band came under investigation following a conscious decision to breach an unjust and oppressive Parades Commission determination. Our band respectfully decided to play a hymn passing St Patrick’s chapel on Donegall Street. This is a decision that the band fully stands over.

The PSNI initially sought to prosecute almost every member of the band, working under a ‘joint-enterprise’ rule whereby they sought to present the entire band as one structure and therefore each and every band member could have been prosecuted for the actions of the band corporately.

The band took a conscious decision to target this particular aspect of the PSNI case, knowing full well that a successful outcome could severely undermine future PSNI attempts to criminalise bands corporately.

Prior to this, the band also decided to expose the fatal flaws in the legislative framework of the Public Processions Act. By initially refusing to voluntarily attend for interview, the band forced an admission from the PSNI that they have no powers of arrest under the Public Processions Act; therefore there was precious little they could do if a band member refused to engage.

Once this aspect was proven, much to the consternation of a humiliated PSNI investigating team, the band then decided to present for interview with a pre-prepared outline of our defence. This defence was based on the assertion that rather than being one corporate entity, the band was instead compartmentalised and accordingly different sections of the band had no idea what duties other sections were to perform.

For example the flag carriers had no knowledge of what tunes the flute section would play, the drummers acted on the instruction of the lead tip- the role of which revolved constantly amongst the drummers- and the flute players acted on the calls of the band captain, which rotated throughout the parade.

This strategic test of the PSNI’s case proved effective in undermining their malice, as their attempted mass prosecution buckled due to the fact that they could not adduce sufficient proof as to who knew what, when they knew and who bore responsibility. With each compartment of the band reliant upon another and this structure constantly rotating, then it is much harder for the PSNI/PPS to prove beyond all reasonable doubt culpability or knowledge.

As such, the PSNI were only able to prosecute four members of the band, all of whom played flutes. The band members had refused to omit from their pre-prepared PSNI statements that they had consciously broken the determination, a mark of their pride in the actions of the band. Had such an admission not been included, then it is quite conceivable that the PSNI would not even have succeeded in prosecuting four band members.

The strategy of compartmentalising the band, and rotating responsibility of roles and actions, presents the PSNI with a serious evidential problem for any future cases. Despite the fact that four unfortunate members of the band had to accept a fine in this matter, it was an important strategic victory over the PSNI and PPS, and it is hoped that such defence strategies can be refined and utilised further and in the future thwart further malicious prosecutorial attempts to criminalise culture and religious freedom.