Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

When it comes to flags, everything has to be on the table this week

There is already opposition to the idea of a new flag for Northern Ireland
There is already opposition to the idea of a new flag for Northern Ireland

Should we be surprised at the flag question posed by the Haass Team?

The answer is no. Just think about it. This is a negotiation trying to dig three of the heaviest issues out of the political mud they are stuck in.

And remember also what the Haass/O'Sullivan team said at their news conference on November 22 that their intention is to make "meaningful progress" across these questions on flags, parades and the past.

So, somehow, they have to try to find middle ground.

Sinn Fein has published its proposals on flags inside a policy frame of "equality or neutrality".

"This can translate into both national flags on display or no flags at all to be flown," one of its documents states.

Haass knows that won't fly.

Nor will the Union flag across all the councils on designated days, with Belfast given special status, and the flag above the City Hall 365 days a year.

A 'new' or 'neutral' flag may never be designed, never mind displayed. But some new way has to be found. Everything has to be on the table.

And, yes, it may be negotiated back off it again – but that still leaves an answer to be found.

The added challenge in this negotiation is that it is trying to answer not just one, but three of the toughest questions, and within the tightest of timeframes.

Recently the Attorney General's proposals on Troubles-era investigations prompted outrage.

And the flag is another raw issue. For a year now we have watched the fallout on the streets.

We have not yet arrived at the key phase in this negotiation.

In a few days time that will happen, and we will get some clearer indication of what these talks can realistically achieve.

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