We can no longer do nothing about the continuous flying of flags on Northern Ireland's streets
The unofficial display of flags is often used to intimidate and mark territory. It has a significant cost to our economy and has been used as a source of tension in many areas. It is also a major barrier to ensuring public space is shared, as well as limiting community and business development
That’s why I have brought forward plans for a private member’s bill to the Assembly which intends to tackle the thorny issue, a proposal which has now been accepted by the Speaker and which means the process has begun on attempting to make it law.
It follows Alliance’s earlier consultation on the issue and would see anyone wishing to erect a flag on a lamppost having to apply for a licence for up to two weeks, with no further licence granted for at least two weeks after this.
The applicant would need to set out the purpose of the celebration or commemoration for which the flag will be displayed, as well as other details, and be required to post a bond to ensure any costs for raising and removing flags can be recovered by the public purse.
A licencing authority would make determinations on applications. In those determinations, it would take account of Executive policy of all public space being shared space, as well as the flying of flags not referring to illegal organisations, the killing or injuring of anyone, or done to incite hatred.
It would not affect people’s ability to fly flags from their own property, nor would it change Alliance’s belief that designated days remains the best policy for the flying of flags on public buildings.
This will be a long process and success is not guaranteed. However, we need a proactive solution to give a time-bound, respectful approach that would create a fairer balance between the right to celebrate events with legal flags, and the right of everyone to be safe and welcome.