Hearts have warned their fans that they could be arrested if they wave the Red Hand of Ulster flag at Tynecastle. Vladimir Romanov’s club are to send letters to all Hearts supporters outlining their concerns over the flag being used in an inciteful manner.
Hearts have issued a clear statement, which states that anyone, including visiting supporters, who wave the Red Hand of Ulster flag will face arrest.
Hearts Chief Executive David Southern speaking at the Tynecastle side’s AGM yesterday, said: “What happened in that May game can never happen again. All we are asking is what are the reasons for the colours you’re flying at Tynecastle? As regards the Union Jack, there is no club that deserves the right to fly the Union Jack more than Hearts given the sacrifices of our players. We would never ban the Union Jack. But it’s been hijacked and it can be hijacked by a minority of our supporters. We need to be very careful of that.
“As regards the Red Hand of Ulster, quite frankly there is no relevance of that flag at this ground, unless you’re from Ulster Hearts Supporters’ Club, which I believe exists. You can’t be arrested for having a flag or being in possession of a flag unless it’s a prescribed flag.”
While waving a flag of any nation is certainly not an arrestable offence, Southern explains how fans would fall into an arrestable offence for waving the flag.
Southern added: “What you can be arrested for is waving it in an inciteful manner. If it’s used in an inciteful manner to intimidate away fans at Tynecastle, or when we travel, those responsible will be arrested.”
Commenting on the attack [no alleged about it]on Celtic manager Neil Lennon, Southern said that he would be ‘aghast’ if they faced sanctions from the SPL.
Southern told the AGM: “We’ve spent the last four or five weeks in detailed discussions with the SPL, police and stewarding companies in every effort to try to reduce the sanctions the club may face. We did everything in advance of the game that we possibly could. We’d be aghast if the SPL came back and said there was a hefty fine on its way or anything worse than that. Because of the person who ran on, we’re going to make the entire lower main stand a season-ticket holder only area.”
It was also announced at the AGM that the fan who attacked Neil Lennon obtained a ticket from a season ticket holder, and that Season Ticket Holder will be banned for 12 home games. There will be ‘clear zones’ around the dugouts also to prevent any repeat of the Neil Lennon attack.
The Red Hand of Ulster flag was the official flag that was used to represent the Government of Northern Ireland from 1953 to 1973, but is no longer an official flag representing the state. However it is still carried by the Northern Ireland team in the Commonwealth games opening ceremony. The flag is widely used by Unionists and Loyalists within the state.
The official flag of Northern Ireland is the Union Jack, although there is the Flag of Ulster, which now represents the state.
David Miller, Sociology Professor from Strathclyde University in Scotland said of the Red Hand flag: “Like the swastika, the red hand is a symbol that has been misappropriated. It is the symbol of the unionists and is certainly not signed up to by the majority….”
This latest ‘can of worms’ which is certain to explode, mirrors that of the campaign by the SFA in the 1950s and the Tory Government in the 1980s to ban the Irish tricolor from Parkhead.
In 1952 Celtic were ordered to take town the Irish Tricolour, after a riot between Celtic and Rangers fans at a New Year derby game at Parkhead, was partly blamed by the SFA on the Parkhead club’s tradition of flying the Irish tricolor above the Jungle.
Magistrates in Glasgow became embroiled in the issue and made recommendations to the SFA and the Scottish Football League, which included a ban on flags which may incite trouble.
The SFA tried to enforce the ban, but Celtic took exception to the rule, pointing out that the Irish tricolor flew beside many other flags at Parkhead, including the Saltire. The issue was discussed by the SFA Referees’ committee, but the Celtic chairman at the time, Robert Kelly, refused to comply with removal of the Tricolor.
The failure to enforce the ban was down to two points. The clubs were brought into the issue to vote on the expulsion of the Celtic support, with Rangers had the deciding vote. The Ibrox club backed Celtic’s stance and the ban failed. Many believe that the ban was not pushed through because the clubs realised that they would lose significant amounts of money in gate receipts if the fans were banned.
In the early 1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government discussed the possible forced removal of the Irish Tricolor from Celtic Park. Conservative ministers came to the conclusion that while the flying of the Tricolor could constitute ‘tacit support’ for the Provisional IRA, it fell outside the Government’s control. Plans to remove the tricolor were shelved shortly thereafter.
While this time it is Hearts, the club, taking a stance rather than the Official Football authorities. Currently stewards from Rock Steady at Tynecastle enforce an unofficial Tricolor ban, stating that said flags confiscated were not fireproof.
With the news that the club are set to take a hard-line approach on those waving the Red Hand of Ulster flag, both home and away supporters, it could produce flash points between stewards, police and the fans. And could lead to certain supports calling for a boycott of Hearts games if they are subjected to arrests for merely waving a flag.