Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Take down the flags? We probably need to talk about that

Flying flags from every lamp-post to mark out territory is one of the things that makes us seems most foreign to many visitors from other parts of the UK.

There was a sniffy note in the reply which the College of Arms, the part of the Royal household which deals with these matters, sent me in answer to a query about their advice on flying the Union flag on public buildings.

"The practice of flying it all-year-round is relatively new in the United Kingdom and, perhaps, more in accordance with attitudes to flags seen in other countries, such as the United States, than with traditional attitudes here," it wrote, suggesting that perpetual flag-flying made special occasions less special.

If they say that about civic buildings, it is obvious that leaving the Union flag flying on streets until it is a tattered rag does not chime with UK tradition. The SDLP proposal for a flags commission could establish guidelines, but they would be hard to enforce.

While we can see who takes part in a parade, once flags are up, it is hard to prove who erected them, so that they can be held to account.

Taking them down would be an unending – and dangerous – task without agreement.

The PSNI is probably right on this; political consensus would be more useful than regulation.

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