A former DUP MLA has claimed reasons for the ongoing delay to a crunch report on flags, parades and culture are as “clear as mud”.
The Stormont committee which monitors the office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister was told the report of a commission set up in 2016 had been delayed by the DUP but is now being stymied by Sinn Fein over an attached annex on implementation.
North Down Assemblyman Alex Easton said he did not know why publication of the report was being held up because there had not been a clear answer.
Committee chair Colin McGrath of the SDLP said: “The DUP would publish the report but not with the annex and Sinn Fein does not want to see it published unless it has the annex. Therefore, it is not getting published.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, however, said that was unfair and incorrect, adding: “The Executive response needs to be agreed and that is yet to be agreed.”
Mr McGrath hit back: “In fairness it is the department of disagreement. We know that no decisions come from it.”
But Mrs O’Neill replied “The Executive need to agree collectively the response regarding implementation”.
Mr Easton, who quit the DUP just hours after Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was ratified as leader, retorted: “It is as clear as mud.”
First Minister Paul Givan said ongoing work by the junior ministers Gary Middleton and Declan Kearney on the implementation of the report should not be a “pre-condition” to it going into the public domain.
It is now eight months since the Assembly backed an Alliance motion demanding the report into Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition should be published.
MLAs also supported an SDLP amendment calling on the Executive to honour commitments in the New Decade, New Approach deal which led to the restoration of power-sharing and included a commitment to establish an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression, to deal with flags issues — months before the current crisis.
The cost of the commission has been given as £730,000, more than half of the total in expenses for its 15 members.