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Flags: Could the Irish tricolour fly on Northern Ireland council buildings?

By Bill White

Hopefully you noticed our first article last week covering our recent polling research into the subject of 'Flags and their display' in Northern Ireland. Our polling is part of a wider research project and study currently being carried out by the QUB Institute of Irish Studies, examining the use of flags in Northern Ireland.

LucidTalk was commissioned by the Institute of Irish Studies to undertake research into these questions.

The NI-Wide poll-project targeted a sample of 1,421, which was carefully selected to be demographically representative of NI, and all responses were balanced and weighted to be reflective of age, gender and occupational grouping.

The project used an agreed set of poll questions agreed with the Institute of Irish Studies and all poll questions were agreed to British Polling Council (BPC) professional market research standards, to ensure neutrality and balance.

Our first article looked at the official flying of flags by district councils and the issue of designated days - what would be acceptable and what would not.

Not surprisingly we found a wide range of opinion.

Read more: Flags: What do you want to see flying on your local council building?

Here we review the possible flying of the Irish tricolour on council and government buildings perhaps as a compromise allowing, e.g. a greater number of days flying the UK-Union flag? Or perhaps only in nationalist controlled councils?

After all, the tricolour can routinely be seen flying 'unofficially' around parts of Northern Ireland perhaps reflecting people's Irishness and republicanism.

However, for others it represents a foreign flag and the IRA. The use of the flags has caused controversy through the history of Northern Ireland, and since the 1998 Agreement, which recognised the identity of Irishness, there have been ongoing debates about the legitimacy of the use of the tricolour.

So we offered six options, or different circumstances, to our poll respondents, as to when the Irish tricolour could possibly be flown on district council offices and graph 1 shows the results:

The results for each option are shown from left to right - from an 'excellent option' (light blue) on the left-hand-side, to a 'very bad option' (dark blue) on the right-hand-side, with neutral (green) in the middle.

So if we look at the left-hand-side of the above illustration, i.e. for the scenario of flying the Irish tricolour 'Alongside the UK-Union flag' on council buildings - 11.21% thought this an 'excellent option' but 36.84% thought it a 'very bad option'.

The 'Never on Council property' option has NI split right down the middle with about 25% thinking it a 'very good' idea (i.e. they think the Irish Tricolour should never be flown), 24% thinking it a 'very bad' idea, and the rest somewhere in-between.

The most significant result is perhaps that the only option with any real support for flying of the Irish flag is 'On occasions of a visit by an Irish government Minister or President'.

Support for this option could be seen as unionists showing a more liberal, or tolerant approach, or then again it may just be seen as emphasising the ‘foreignness’ of the Irish identity.

Graph 2 shows how Protestants respondents viewed the Irish tricolour options:

The dark blue columns (bad/very bad option) are all bigger for the Protestants than the total NI results.

Apart from, of course, the 'Never on Council property' choice which got more support in the light blue column as a very good/excellent policy.

However, even with Protestants, 58% thought the flying of the Irish Tricolour 'on occasions of a visit by an Irish government minister or president' as a very good or fairly good idea.

Graph 3 shows what Catholics or Others thought about this question:

Catholics/Others are a lot more 'neutral' on all the options, with the 'bad option' dark blue columns a lot lower.

Not surprisingly, Catholics/Others are very supportive of the 'on occasions of a visit by an Irish government minister or president' option, with over 75% thinking it a very good or fairly good idea.

Our next review will cover the unofficial flying of flags, that is flags on lamp posts. Does this annoy you? Should there be more regulation?

Watch out for more poll results on this early in January. In the meantime, you may want to fly your own Happy Christmas and Happy New Year flag? - and in return, seasonal greetings from us as well.

This review has been compiled by Bill White, Managing Director of Belfast polling and market research company LucidTalk, assisted by Dr Paul Nolan, Research Consultant in the Institute of Irish Studies and Dr Dominic Bryan, Director of the Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s Belfast. You can follow LucidTalk on Twitter: @LucidTalk.

Background Information

Polling was carried out by Belfast based polling and market research company LucidTalk, over a period from the 24th September 2015 – 28th October 2015. A representative sample of 1,421 NI residents, aged 18+, were interviewed by telephone (approximately 90%), and direct Face-to-Face interview (approximately 10%). The sample of 1,421 was carefully selected to be demographically representative of NI residents within the targeted geographic area of NI. NB The sample of 1,421 is larger than the normal 1,080 sample required for a representative sample of NI opinion. This was to allow representative and balanced samples to be obtained for each of the 11 NI Council areas.

Results presented are weighted, were applicable, to match the Northern Ireland (NI) demographics of gender, age, religion, socio-economic group, region (within NI), population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only etc.). This demographic analysis ensured the final results represented an accurate view of current opinion within NI.

All data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/-2.6%, at 95% confidence. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting. NB In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

LucidTalk is a member of all recognised professional Polling and Market Research organisations, including the UK Market Research Society (UK-MRS), the British Polling Council (BPC), and ESOMAR (European Society of Market Research organisations). The BPC are the primary UK professional body ensuring professional Polling and Market Research standards. All polling, research, sampling, methodologies used, market research projects and results and reports production are, have been, and will be, carried out to the professional standards laid down by the BPC.

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