Confusion hits UUP as MLA Basil McCrea claims party policy supports flying flag for 17 days
Confusion surrounds the UUP’s policy on flag flying after a policy document emerged which supports only hoisting the Union flag on designated days.
The latest dispute comes as the Assembly meets to try and chart a way forward after the recent violence over the flag issue.
Last week, the UUP's three Belfast councillors voted to fly the flag at Belfast City Hall every day of the year.
But UUP MLA Basil McCrea sparked an internal row after he said the Union flag should only be flown on official buildings on designated days.
Now his colleagues in City Hall have demanded that Mr McCrea be disciplined for speaking out — although Mr McCrea insists he was in line with party policy.
The UUP divisions bubbled over at a party executive meeting in Belfast on Saturday. At the meeting, Mr McCrea produced a document which suggests that he was within established policy.
“I hope I answered all my colleagues’ questions adequately and I am not aware of any disciplinary proceedings,” he said.
He went on: “I accept that our councillors were entitled to vote as they did but if I had been there I would not have voted with them.”
Mr McCrea said that he had previously voted for a ‘designated days’ system at Lisburn Council and in Stormont and would have done so in Belfast.
The days are nominated by Buckingham Palace and include Royal birthdays.
The document, which Mr McCrea said is available on the Assembly website, was produced during the consultation process on the draft Flags (Northern Ireland) Order 2000. It makes no suggestion that the Union flag should be flown constantly.
It argues that “in determining the appropriate days and locations for the flying of flags and emblems, district councils must pay particular attention to their own statutory obligations under two very important pieces of legislation”.
These are the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998.
Alliance promoted the 17 days compromise, and persuaded nationalists to drop their proposal of never flying the union flag, on the basis of an equality impact assessment which warned of possible legal challenges.
The 2000 UUP document commends this approach “by accepting the 17 flag-flying days as specified by the Flags Regulations, the SDLP and Sinn Fein will be honouring their obligation in the Belfast Agreement to show ‘sensitivity’ and ‘promote mutual respect rather than division’.”
But Belfast UUP councillor Jim Rodgers said: “I attended the party executive. My colleagues and I will be meeting soon to consider our position. “We still want Basil McCrea disciplined for speaking on the public airwaves without clearance and for interfering in council business.”
He declined to say whether he and colleagues, Bob Stoker and David Browne, will quit if Mr McCrea is not punished.
A UUP spokesman said that the matter had now been referred to party officers. In a statement, the party expressed full support for its councillors’ stance.
It condemned the violent protests and attacks on politicians.
The debate at Stormont is expected to unite all parties in condemning disorder and violence.
However, unionists and nationalists remain divided on how often the Union flag should be flown. Unionists are trying to increase the number of days on which the flag is flown at Stormont.
To view the UUP document visit http://archive.niassembly.gov.uk/ reports/nia15-00.htm#uup