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Editor's Viewpoint

Let us see flags and culture report now

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A Northern Ireland council has been the victim of a cyber attack, sparking fears that private information about individuals and businesses has been stolen. (PA)

A Northern Ireland council has been the victim of a cyber attack, sparking fears that private information about individuals and businesses has been stolen. (PA)

PA

A Northern Ireland council has been the victim of a cyber attack, sparking fears that private information about individuals and businesses has been stolen. (PA)

The shelves in virtually every Stormont department must be groaning under the weight of reports which have never been fully acted upon.

And the situation certainly has not improved under the current five-party power-sharing coalition.

The latest document to vanish from sight is a long-awaited report on flags and culture in the province, the work of the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition set up in 2016.

The collapse of Stormont halted its work, and it was further delayed last year with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the report was presented to the Executive Office in July - and nothing has been heard of it since.

It has not even been shared with the whole Executive, although politicians of virtually every hue did have some input to it and may have got their own personal copies.

This is a hugely important piece of work as flags and culture are virtually interchangeable terms and are much cherished by opposing communities. If flags are flown they often cause offence; if they are not flown equal or more offence is taken.

In 2012-13 a row over how often the Union Flag could fly over Belfast City Hall sparked intense loyalist street protests including attacks on police, damage to Alliance's offices and threats to members of that party. What the protesters failed to recognise was that Alliance had proposed and gained support for a compromise motion that allowed the flag to be flown for 18 days a year. Otherwise, it might not have flown at all.

Given the controversial nature of flags, emblems and cultural expression in Northern Ireland - any concession to one community is seen as a loss by the other - the inclination of the First and Deputy First Ministers would appear to be to kick it further down the road. They have had the report for seven months, surely it is time that the recommendations of the commission were made public.

One member of the commission says the Executive Office may be awaiting underpinning legislation before revealing the findings for discussion.

But failure to do so is also impacting on consideration of a review of hate crime legislation, given the obvious overlap between the two issues.

It should remain hidden from general view no longer, as flags and culture are potentially inflammatory touchstones, and ways of harmonising cultural as well as political beliefs would do much to deliver the promise of the peace process, albeit two decades late.

Belfast Telegraph


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