Belfast Telegraph

Stormont flags commission 'wasting taxpayers' money' says member Doug Beattie

UUP MLA Doug Beattie
UUP MLA Doug Beattie
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

UUP MLA Doug Beattie has said that a Stormont culture group that he is a member of is "wasting taxpayers' money".

Mr Beattie is one of 15 members of the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture & Tradition (FICT).

Set up via the Fresh Start Agreement, the FICT's aim was to address contentious issues surrounding flags, emblems and identity.

The group has yet to publish it's initial report, expected in December 2017, and has not met since December last year.

The BBC has reported that the FICT has cost more than £730,000 since it was set up in June 2016.

More than half of that money has been spent on expenses and renumeration for its 15 members, excluding Mr Beattie who does not receive any as he is an elected representative.

One member, Professor Thomas Hennessey received over £75k in renumeration and expenses for his work on the FICT.

The full expenses breakdown can be viewed here.

Mr Beattie said that the group was making "great progress" until power-sharing at Stormont collapsed in January 2017.

"We couldn't move forward any more because we didn't have full party buy-in from all of the five main political parties," the Upper Bann MLA said.

The FICT was set up to examine issues surrounding band parades, flags, identity, culture and tradition.
The FICT was set up to examine issues surrounding band parades, flags, identity, culture and tradition.

"All of a sudden with the collapse of Stormont, political will disappeared."

Mr Beattie said that since the fall of Stormont the FICT was not delivering value for money.

"If it's not going to do its job, it should be dissolved because we shouldn't be wasting taxpayers' money - but at the same time, I think FICT has got a piece of work that could help move this country forward."

Former chairman of the Parades Commission and Community Relations Council Peter Osborne said the FICT's report should be published now so it can be discussed and implemented.

The Executive Office told the BBC that a report would have to been agreed on before it was published, while Mr Beattie said publishing it now would be "detrimental".

"I've seen astonishingly innovative ideas from some of the members and for someone to dump that into the public domain now would just undermine the trust that we have," he said.

Mr Beattie urged political parties to "re-empower FICT" and said it could be used in negotiations aimed at restoring power-sharing at Stormont.

Leaks last year suggested the FICT report's proposals include the prohibition of certain materials including flags on bonfires and that Sinn Fein had demanded the tricolour must be flown with the Union Flag on public buildings or no flags should be flown at all.

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson claimed that the commission was planning to introduce new legislation surrounding bonfires which would require an application process.

The FICT is co-chaired by community worker Neville Armstrong and Queen's University academic Professor Dominic Bryan and includes members nominated by political parties and others including academics, Orange Order representatives and business leaders.

Other members include former DUP MLAs Nelson McCausland and Ian McCrea and recently elected Belfast SDLP councillor Carl Whyte.

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