'New Northern Ireland flag debate captures imagination but we need to concentrate on problems we face'
Richard Haass provoked debate when he asked the political parties to consider how a new flag for Northern Ireland might be devised.
His question encouraged budding artists to flood the Belfast Telegraph with designs, ranging from variations on the St Patrick’s Cross, to an Ulster Fry, which simply wasn’t right, because it featured baked beans but no potato bread.
Seriously, there's nothing to fear in discussing a new flag for Northern Ireland. The Union Flag will retain official status, reflecting our place in the United Kingdom.
It should fly on all council headquarters and suitable government buildings on UK designated days, plus a number of days which are specific to here.
We also have an unofficial flag which is widely recognised as the symbol for Northern Ireland and it is used by many of our sports teams and sports stars, throughout the world.
We could adopt it and fly it for the rest of the year, or we could have a debate about coming up with a new emblem, taking on some of the excellent suggestions from members of the public – but not an Ulster Fry with no potato or soda bread!
Personally, if I were getting out my colouring pencils, I’d try a St Patrick’s cross, with a red hand in the centre, intertwined with a Crown and a Harp.
If a new flag were agreed, it would be nice if it could be symbolic of a new focus for public life here. For instance it could signal a new ‘can do’ spirit across the civil service, with government departments and public servants working together to maximise Northern Ireland’s potential, create jobs and build an integrated society.
There are times when the public sector, and particularly the trade unions, can seem hostile to private enterprise and sceptical about businesses doing well.
We should be trying to encourage a spirit of entrepreneurship, with politicians, the civil service and businesses all working together to bring new jobs and increase prosperity. Likewise, Northern Ireland’s education system, which has an excellent reputation, is being damaged by divisive politics around the transfer test and funding.
We need support for all schools from the executive; backing the integrated sector and helping to tackle underachievement, by getting to grips with the issues, rather than punishing schools which are excelling.
A debate around a new flag captures the imagination, but let’s also concentrate on creating a new ‘can do’ attitude to the problems which we face.
In the long-term it is taking a different approach to politics, supporting enterprise, prioritising education and delivering efficient public services, which will make the biggest difference to Northern Ireland.