Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Agreement on flags would be a miracle

Union flags and bunting on streets in Belfast this week. Putting them up in mixed areas could now be an offence
Union flags and bunting on streets in Belfast this week. Putting them up in mixed areas could now be an offence

There are more of them and they are getting bigger – flags here, there and everywhere.

This is the issue that the Haass/O'Sullivan talks gave up on. The US team sitting with the five Executive parties could not find an answer. There was the suggestion of a new or neutral Northern Ireland flag. The possibility, on occasions, of flying the Union flag alongside the tricolour. A proposal from Sinn Fein for two flags or no flag.

Early on in the negotiations Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott identified the flags question as the most difficult in a period of talks that also focused on parades and the past.

And, in the end, the best that could be done was a proposal for a Commission on Identity, Culture and Tradition. It was an acknowledgement of defeat on the flag question.

And the next talks will change nothing on this question. The political atmosphere is poisonous and this is the wrong time of the year to look for big initiatives on these unanswered questions.

Inside the loyalist community for many months now the talk has been of "cultural war", followed by a marking of territory.

And now we're in the jaws of another marching season, with the Woodvale/Ardoyne standoff continuing and another cycle of parades about to happen. One politician, who'll be involved in the talks, suggested they should be "put on hold" and an effort made instead to get a resolution to that parading stalemate in north Belfast. There was nothing in the conversation to indicate the slightest possibility of progress on flags.