The number of paramilitary flags on main roads in Northern Ireland has halved, but thousands of flags are still used to mark out loyalist and republican districts, according to new research.
A report by Queen's University Belfast shows the number of paramilitary flags flown on arterial routes during July has more than halved, dropping from 161 flags in 2006 to 73 in 2009.
The research showed the largest proportion of those that were flying in July 2009 belonged to the loyalist UVF.
The survey found the vast majority of the flags flying represent the unionist or loyalist tradition.
During July 2006-09, the average number of unionist flags was 3,868 compared with 245 nationalist flags, while during September, the average number of unionist flags was 1,411 compared with 505 nationalist. At Easter, two-thirds of the flags on arterial routes were unionist.
Dr Dominic Bryan, Director of the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen's said: "Over the last thirty years, the tradition in some areas of Northern Ireland of flying flags on houses appears to have declined, while there has been an increase in the hanging of flags from lampposts.
"Instead of celebrating identity, tattered and torn flags are left to demarcate territory. In Northern Ireland, where national identity is so keenly felt, this would seem to indicate that in actual fact the national flags are treated with little respect."
The study is contained in a new report, Public Displays of Flags and Emblems in Northern Ireland, published by the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen's. The report is funded by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, to evaluate the creation of shared space and the effectiveness of the multi-agency Flags Protocol, which was introduced in 2005.
On average, more than 4,000 flags are put up on lampposts and houses, in town centres and on arterial routes every July.
Surveys conducted in July and September over the last four years reveal one third of the flags put up along main roads in Northern Ireland over the summer months are still flying at the end of September. The surveys found that those flying from lampposts were often not removed and were left to become torn over winter months.