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Alliance permit proposal for the flying of flags is branded a stunt

By Noel McAdam

Published 23/01/2016

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle
Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle

The Alliance Party has been accused of "blatant electioneering" after suggesting a licensing system to regulate the flying of flags.

Applicants would have to apply for licences to display the Union flag, Irish tricolour and others. The permit would last for two weeks.

There would also be a two-week gap between licenses being granted, and any costs for removal of flags or other expenses would be paid by the applicants.

David Ford's party launched a public consultation on the proposals in an attempt to develop a framework for flag displays in public areas.

The issue, which creates annual tension and confrontation, particularly at flashpoints during the marching season, has been in political limbo since the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) just over a year ago.

The five main parties, including Alliance, were involved in the deal, which contained a commitment to set up a Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition by last June.

At one point a statement from then First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "Good progress has been made and the recruitment of the non-political members can commence once we are in a position to progress the implementation of the SHA."

Alliance along with DUP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists and SDLP also formed the Stormont House Implementation Group, which attempted to progress the deal.

The SHA came off the rails over welfare reform and led to new negotiations last autumn, with the future of the Assembly and Executive at stake.

The resulting Fresh Start deal involved only the DUP and Sinn Fein, but reiterated plans for the commission, which it planned to set up by this March.

Alliance said yesterday its consultation is intended to inform the commission of people's views.

"The idea of a commission, along with many other things, has been put on the back-burner so many times that we decided to take the initiative," the party added.

Ukip's David McNarry labelled it a "kick the Prods" exercise and said the timing in the run-up to May's Assembly election demonstrated it amounted to "blatant electioneering".

But Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle explained: "This consultation does not question the right of people to display legal flags from private property, nor would it change the law around flying of flags on public buildings or affect people's ability to fly flags on their own homes.

"But there is a need for a clear, transparent framework which could create a fairer balance between the right to celebrate events with legal flags and the right of everyone to be safe and welcome."

He said the Department for Regional Development confirmed it had been deterred from removing flags due to threat of violence against staff.

And he pointed to the NI Life and Times Survey showing that three out of four people did not support flag-flying in their own neighbourhoods.

"Simply doing nothing is no longer an option, that's why we need an alternative. The unofficial and aggressive display of flags is often used to mark territory and is a significant barrier to ensuring public space is shared," the East Belfast MLA added.

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