Submission to Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition Commission

February 5, 2017

THE COMMUNITY Association has made the following submission to the Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition Commission, which is currently gathering input from across the community on important issues of culture and identity.

The Association response is:

In your opinion how can we ensure that in Northern Ireland we develop a rich diverse community in which cultural expression can be celebrated?
 
 
It is important that all communities are respected. While people may not belong to a particular tradition or culture, they should not seek to offend others who do. Our community is a strongly single identity community and we are very proud of our traditions and culture. The Community Association has sought in its activities to make events welcoming to all and to convey a positive and confident message about the identity of our community and a sense of respect towards others.
 
 
Do you have any examples of positive practice in relation to displays of flags, identity, culture and tradition that have been accepted in a positive manner by communities of different backgrounds and traditions?
 
Through our major UIster Scots festival, the Broadisland Gathering, we have sought to develop confidence within our own community based on knowledge and understanding of our own heritage. We have also sought to increase cultural awareness about others - the festival has included Irish language presentations based on townland names, a Scottish Gaelic choir, representation from the Jewish community and in 2016 we had the first Irish folk group to perform at the event. This would not have been possible in the pre-festival community of the 1980s as in our view people had to learn about and be confident in their own culture in order to be comfortable learning about and enjoying other cultures.
 
The festival has been cross-community in terms of those attending it from outside and the use of lambeg drums, for example, with young people in a non-contentious environment has helped ensure visitors were both comfortable and enjoyed their visit to the event, learning about musical traditions very specific to our community.
 
The group also drew on the local Loyal Orders tradition in devising a new type of banner - townland banners - which are unique to us and are paraded through the village at the festival. They have shown people that banners can be used in a very positive community environment.
 
The group has also highilghted often complicated aspects of our history such as the 1798 United Irish Rising, which was a major event in the local area. Understanding and heightening awareness of this event in a 92% Protestant community has given the community confidence in taking ownership of its past in a way which would not previously have been possible.
 
What do you consider are the issues in respect of flags, identity, culture and tradition in your community or within Northern Ireland as a whole?
 
Flags are very strong symbols of identity and there is a good situation in our community where they are put up for the marching season and then taken down before the community festival in September. However, we know this is not the same elsewhere. In our view, there are many young people who have not been educated in their heritage and have no confidence in their identity. Reverting to leaving flags up all year round is shorthand for a sense of security in their identity in some cases. 
 
What barriers presently exist to making progress to become a society that understands and accepts different cultures and expressions of these? 
 
The state education system appears to us to downplay the traditions and culture of young Protestant Unionist Loyalist students. It would be better to discuss their identity or sense of identity with them and provide projects which might draw on these in the school environment. There is little being taught in the state sector in relation to the history of Ireland or Northern Ireland and we feel that there should be a curriculum which would be shared across the education sector and would detail our rich and diverse history as well as encouraging respect and understanding of the different strands or our history. 
 
We believe that underachievement within the working class Protestant student community at school is feeding into a wider malaise which cannot ultimately be good for our society. More investment is required within the system to encourage role models, mentoring and achievement, and more funding should be put into the youth sector. Funding for our local youth club in the community centre was withdrawn for financial reasons and there is now no youth club, with young people feeling isolated and undervalued as a consequence.
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