Nobel Prize for literature winner Seamus Heaney has said there will never be a united Ireland and that Loyalists should be allowed to fly their flag over Belfast City Hall.
Heaney, born a Catholic in rural Derry, and has refused many British honors, made his remarks in an interview with The Times of London.
The poet has sometimes been accused of not writing about Northern Ireland issues so his comments are unexpected. He said Loyalists should be allowed to fly their flags as not to do so is very dangerous.
He addressed the Loyalist protests since Belfast City Council voted to only fly the Union Jack on 15 days of the year as it is in every other British jurisdiction.
“It’s very dangerous indeed. Somebody made this remark, and it made me alert to a new possibility — they said, if this goes on until the marching season, everything is, in a sense, lost.”
The Loyalists, he says, “perceive themselves as almost deserted. And right enough. I think Sinn Fein could have taken it easy. No hurry on flags. Jesus.”
“What does it matter? But — it matters utterly to them. And now there’s no way they’re going to go back on it, of course. As someone who knows something of prejudice, from early on, I can understand the Loyalists — but the unremittingness of it ... I remember, at the very beginning of the Troubles in Derry, Eddie McAteer, a big Nationalist politician, he was like the paterfamilias of Nationalism. And he said, ‘both sides are entitled to their pageantry!’ Which was a rather grand utterance, but true enough. But there’s no doubt that the Loyalist side take the pageantry to extremes, they wipe the floor with the others.”
“Loyalism, or Unionism, or Protestantism, or whatever you want to call it, in Northern Ireland it operates not as a class system, but a caste system. And they [the Loyalists] have an entitlement factor running: the flag is part of it. There’s never going to be a united Ireland, you know,” he says. “So why don’t you let them fly the flag?”
In 1982 Heaney objected to being called a British poet. He wrote: “My passport’s green/No glass of ours was ever raised/to toast the Queen.”
He also refused the opportunity to become the United Kingdom’s Poet Laureate, saying: “I’ve nothing against the Queen personally: I had lunch at the Palace once upon a time.”