Ukip seeks U-turn over no Union flag on Northern Ireland driving licences
A decision to ban the Union flag from appearing on Northern Ireland driving licences has come under heavy fire from Ukip.
New driving licences issued to motorists in Britain are to carry the flag - but Northern Ireland is the only region in the UK which will not display the emblem.
Licences here will continue to carry only the EU flag.
The move has angered Ukip representative Henry Reilly, who said his party would be meeting with UK Trainsport Minister Claire Perry to get to the bottom of why the Union flag had been left off new NI driving licences. He has also raised the matter with Ukip MPs at Westminster
"It is ironic that the English, Welsh and Scots will have the St Patrick's cross on their licence as part of the Union flag - while the country it represents will be denied that right," he said.
"This decision is insulting to the vast majority of Northern Irish residents, who are happy to live in the UK and are relaxed about UK symbols of statehood being on official UK documents." Mr Reilly claimed the exclusion of the flag from Northern Ireland licences would create difficulties for people when overseas when trying to hire a car or use their licence as ID, when it is different from the millions of other UK licences.
The Ukip representative stressed that it should not be compulsory for new driving licences to carry the Union flag.
"If someone does feel very strongly that they do not want the Union flag displayed on their driving licence they could make a specific request to have a licence issued without one and pay an additional processing fee if necessary.
"It is clearly wrong that people in Northern Ireland who are opposed to the EU must carry the EU emblem on their licence - while being denied their own national flag."
In statement trumpeting the new license format earlier this week, the Transport Minister said: "People in this country rightly take pride in our national flag - which is why I am delighted it will now be displayed on British driving licences."
A spokeperson for the Driver & Vehicle Agency NI (DVA) said that licences issued in Northern Ireland would continue to display only the EU flag.
"In 2012 it was agreed that, recognising the particular sensitivities surrounding symbols in Northern Ireland, NI driving licences, which are produced for the Driver and Vehicle Agency in Swansea by the DVLA, should continue to be produced without the flag or crest," the spokesman explained.
Senior unionist figures have also criticised the decision.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said the exclusion was "highly regrettable".
Former UUP leader Tom Elliott MLA said he would write to the Transport Minister for an explanation. And TUV leader Jim Allister said the decision to exclude Northern Ireland "will cause great hurt and offence".