Belfast Telegraph

Ten councils flying Union flag every day of the year amid legal threats

By Rebecca Black

Ten councils across Northern Ireland now fly the Union flag all year round from at least one building.

The revelation comes as nationalists threatened legal action and an Equality Commission investigation after Craigavon Borough Council voted on Monday night to fly the Union flag 365 days of the year.

The vote by unionists flouted the advice of an equality impact assessment which recommended that the council did not change its current policy of only flying the flag on designated days.

This decision is only binding until March 31 when the new Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon super council takes over the reins.

However, sources have indicated to the Belfast Telegraph that informal discussions between parties on the super council have started to ensure the flag stays up. Unionists hold a sizeable majority on the new council, making the decision appear likely.

Craigavon's decision over the flag has sparked polarised reactions.

The Orange Order welcomed it as a "hugely symbolic gesture". DUP councillor Carla Lockhart said it was the right decision despite an earlier proposal to fly the flag from seven locations in the borough all year round.

But Sinn Fein blasted it as "illogical and most likely illegal". Councillor Gemma McKenna said £10,000 had been spent on the EQIA (Equality Impact Assessment) consultation.

"This is the depressing final legacy of Craigavon council that has unfortunately been stained by unionist dogma and sectarianism," she said, adding that her party would be seeking legal advice on the matter.

SDLP councillor Joe Nelson has called for a full investigation by the Equality Commission.

The row has erupted two years after the changing of the policy at Belfast City Hall from the flag being flown all year to just on 20 statutory days.

The decision sparked fury that spilled into weeks of demonstrations, some of which led to riots.

Craigavon Borough Council had not flown a flag from its headquarters all year round for 12 years before Monday evening.

However, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal that in total 10 councils fly the Union flag from their headquarters 365 days of the year.

They are Antrim, Banbridge, Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Castlereagh, Coleraine, Craigavon, Larne, Newtownabbey and North Down Councils.

Castlereagh Council flies the Union flag all year round from seven buildings, Newtownabbey from five and Ballymena at three. Larne additionally flies the Northern Ireland flag from its headquarters for the first two weeks of July.

Six councils fly the Union flag on a number of designated days. They are Ards, Armagh, Ballymoney, Belfast, Dungannon and Lisburn councils.

However, Ards additionally flies the Union flag all year round in a number of areas and Lisburn flies it all year round at the local war memorial.

Eight councils fly no flags at all. They are Cookstown, Derry, Fermanagh, Limavady, Magherafelt, Moyle, Newry and Strabane councils.

Story so far

The decision of Belfast City Council in December 2012 to reduce the number of days the Union flag is flown at City Hall from 365 to 20 sparked fury and demonstrations. A fresh row of words has broken out since Monday night when Craigavon Borough Council moved to increase the number of days it flies from flag to 365. Ten of our 26 councils fly the Union flag all year round.

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