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.