Hamill’s Beat - You can’t be too careful when it comes to tricolours

A campaigner’s gaffes over flags are funny and sad at the same time. “If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry,” as SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon put it.

Although Willie Frazer wasn’t physically injured in the long war it’s clear he has been emotionally scarred. The legacy of war is bitterness.

Willie 51, from Whitecross in County Armagh, suffered more than most. When he was just 15 his father Bertie, a UDR man, was shot dead by the IRA. Over the next ten years four other members of his family were killed and a fifth was injured in a gun attack.

Mr Frazer founded the victims’ group, Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR). Earlier this year he mistook the flag of Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa for the Irish tricolour.

It had been published in a calendar by Armagh City Council. It has the same colours as the Irish flag except that its orange and green stripes are reversed.

More recently, Frazer accused a County Tyrone primary school of training children to use weapons. His ‘evidence’ for this was that he had mistaken an Italian flag flying outside the school for the green white and orange of the Republic. In fairness, Mr Frazer later apologised for his mistake.

The Italian flag had been flying alongside the flags of Poland and Turkey as the pupils had been doing a project on Europe. “A lot of people did think it was the Irish tricolour and that was creating a lot of bad feeling,” said the FAIR leader.

Flying flags from other countries is fair enough with FAIR so long as they don’t include an Irish flag.

It just goes to show that when it comes to tricolours, you can’t be too careful. Mr Frazer’s sensitivity to them makes as much sense as a Belfast man who once told me he hated France because, “it’s one o’ them oul republican countries,” as he put it.