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Much-delayed report on flags and emblems in Northern Ireland has cost £800,000

File given to Executive Office seven months ago will be 'waste of money' if it remains unpublished, warns MLA

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Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie

A commission set up to examine the contentious issue of flags and emblems in Northern Ireland has cost more than £800,000, it can be revealed.

But its long-awaited report has still not been published - seven months after being submitted.

One member of the commission said that, if the report is not made public, then it would be a "complete waste of money".

The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (Fict) was established in June 2016, and was due to report within 18 months, but this was delayed after the collapse of Stormont.

Work was put on hold in late 2018 and resumed in January 2020, with the commission asked to finish by April 10.

However, the pandemic caused a further postponement. Its report was finally submitted last July. However last week it emerged it has not been shared with all Executive ministers.

It has now come to light that the commission has cost the taxpayer a total of £809,019 since its inception.

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The 2017/18 financial year racked up the highest costs at £423,688.

The lowest was in the 2020/21 financial year, when the total expenditure was £21,471.

Of the £809,000, around half (£380,245) went towards members' expenses and remuneration, except for political representatives on the commission, who are not remunerated.

Fict was made up of 15 members, seven of whom were appointed by the parties, and was jointly chaired by community relations worker Neville Armstrong and Professor Dominic Bryan of Queen's University.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie sat on the commission until April 2020.

"Having been on the commission and having taken no renumeration whatsoever, I have to say that it will only be measured as value for money when the report is released and its recommendations are actioned," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Right now it's a report that is sitting on the shelf, gathering dust, and may never see the light of day.

"And if that's the case then it's a complete waste of money, it's a waste of £800,000, it's a waste of taxpayers money, it's a waste of time, it's a waste of effort.

"So, until it gets brought down off the shelf, dusted off and people get to see it and people start to work on it and take action, or exploit some of the aspects within it, then it's a big pink elephant."

Belfast SDLP councillor Carl Whyte, who also sat on the commission, said: "The report should be published and the fact that it has been forward to the Executive (Office) and not published just isn't acceptable.

"There are a lot of problems that need addressed and solved and there are recommendations within the report we submitted.

"The fact that it hasn't been actioned by the Executive Office is just ridiculous. There is really no explanation or reason for this delay."

A spokesperson for The Executive Office said: "A working group is being set up, involving Junior Ministers, advisers and officials, to map out a way forward for Executive consideration in relation to the report by the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition.

"This will include decisions around its publication."

Belfast Telegraph


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