Belfast Telegraph

Two week limit for flying flags among proposals to tackle Northern Ireland powder keg issue

By Adrian Rutherford

Flags flown around key events like the Twelfth should remain in place for just two weeks, a report has said.

People should be told who is putting flags up and how long they will be displayed for, academics at Queen's suggested.

A designated days policy set by Belfast City Council should also be rolled out to other councils.

The proposals form part of a new report on a long-running source of contention in Northern Ireland. The flying of flags on lamp-posts and public buildings continues to strongly divide society.

Today's report, 'Flags: Towards a New Understanding', outlines the findings of a study aimed at finding a way forward on the complex issue.

Compiled by Dr Dominic Bryan and Dr Paul Nolan from the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen's, it is based on a study involving a survey of 1,421 people across Northern Ireland.

Their research also included focus groups, and interviews with political and community representatives, alongside a review of current policies.

The report recommends that flags should only be flown to mark significant community dates, and for two weeks around these dates.

It also proposes:

  • In residential areas, the views of all people should be given consideration, including those in a minority;
  • Flags should not be placed outside homes in an intimidating or threatening way;
  • They should not be erected for celebratory or commemorative purposes in places which deliver public services, such as hospitals, schools or community centres;
  • Flags should not be placed in 'interface' areas;
  • Residents should know who is putting the flags up and how long they will be displayed.

A survey in the report, conducted by the Lucid Talk polling agency, found 70% of people felt flags on public buildings was important or very important.

Just over half (53%) supported the flying of flags on council buildings on 18 designated days.

The findings were first reported by the Belfast Telegraph in December. Dr Bryan, the co-author of the report, said limiting flag-flying to 18 days a year - similar to Belfast - could be the most feasible compromise.

It would mean nationalist councils like Derry and Newry, which never fly the Union flag, would have to do so.

But unionist councils which hoist it every day would have to compromise by reducing their displays to the 18 days.

A similar move in Belfast in December 2012 sparked days of protests.

Dr Paul Nolan, research consultant in the Institute of Irish Studies, said flag disputes were a burden on public finances. He noted that policing the 2012/13 flags dispute following the City Hall controversy cost £21.9m.

"There are significant political costs, with neither the Haass talks nor the recent Stormont House Agreement even coming close to a solution," Dr Nolan said.

Belfast Telegraph

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