The 168-page report outlines a number of recommendations on flags, bonfires and murals in Northern Ireland, but little agreement reached by commission
The long-delayed £800,000 report on flags and culture in Northern Ireland has said paramilitary flags and murals should not be displayed anywhere in Northern Ireland.
It added that bonfires are a legitimate form of celebration, if they are “compliant with the law”, and traditional pyres should be respected.
The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT), which was set up in 2016, published its full findings at 4pm on Wednesday, however none of the recommendations from the report are expected to be implemented, as no action plan has been agreed.
The FICT’s findings were submitted to the Executive in July 2020, but are only now being made public.
On the issue of flying flags, the commission acknowledged that “some communities” have undertaken positive work and developed local protocols, aimed at creating a better environment for the flying of flags within local areas.
However, the report adds, it is also evident that “significant problems” remain.
"The flying of any flag which supports or promotes a proscribed organisation is wholly inconsistent with the concept of a culture of lawfulness and this practice has no place within the arena of legitimate cultural expression,” the report states.
The commission continued that the practice of leaving flags flying for extended periods of time, where they become tattered and dirty, is “unacceptable and not consistent” with the principle of treating flags with due respect.
It also discussed the possibility of developing a new ‘civic flag’, which would not be a “regional flag or a national flag”.
The report continued: “...but rather a civic flag that would be designed to be representative of the diversity of our society, including our new communities.”
On bonfires, the FICT report recommended that the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs makes pyre materials – wood only - exempt from being classified as controlled waste for traditional bonfires.
"This would enable such bonfires to occur lawfully on public land when they are undertaken as part of a cultural event and where landowners permit them to occur,” the report outlined.
"As the proposed change in legislation would enable land owners to permit a bonfire on their land for such an occasion, land owners would be in a position to set the conditions upon which such permission is granted, thereby ensuring that the bonfire is safe.”
It also recommended the Executive should undertake a review of existing legislation and if necessary, introduce new powers to allow public sector bodies to take action to remove murals, on public and private buildings, or prevent them being painted where they contravene a set of guidelines.
The FICT did not reach consensus on a range of guidelines that could be used in any future programmes concerning murals.
It listed some possible criteria in relation to murals, such as the need to ensure that the content does not advertise or lend support to a proscribed organization; the avoidance of content that would cause pain or hurt to others as a result of their experiences of the Troubles; the need to seek permission from the property and land owners; and the need to seek planning permission if appropriate.
First Minister Paul Givan welcomed the publication of the 168-page FICT report, and praised the work of the commission who “considered a range of complex issues”.
“It is right that the public have a chance to see the report and have their say, and today’s publication will allow them to do that,” he added.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill added that the report examines a number of “sensitive issues” across the community.
“Addressing these issues is an important part of moving our shared society forward and I put on record my thanks to the commission for their efforts in undertaking this challenging work,” she said.
In conclusion, the wide-ranging report stated the FICT commission was tasked to look at the aspects of cultural identity that “unite us and divide us”.
"The commission’s work over the last number of years, has led it to conclude that while, yes, we do share much culture in common with each other, we clearly have a set of political and cultural identities, which continue to provide challenges for our society,” it outlined.
"In its programme of consultation and engagement, the commission heard of a range of issues that continue to cause tension and division within our society.
"The recommendations made in this report are based on creating an enabling environment in which expressions of everyone’s cultural identity in the public space are both respected and respectful.
"The commission believes that the implementation of its recommendations will develop a new enabling environment in which cultural expression can flourish, free from paramilitary influence and in a new arena of lawfulness and respect.
"Ultimately the Commission believes that the implementation of our recommendations will be for the common good of everyone within our society.”
Read the full document here: https://www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/publications/commission-flags-identity-culture-and-tradition-final-report