Haass raises 'new NI flag' question

Published Tuesday, 03 December 2013
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The idea of a new Northern Ireland flag has been raised by US diplomat Richard Haass, ahead of his return to Belfast next week - as his end-of-year deadline to resolve contentious issues looms.

While Dr Haass has not simply proposed a new neutral flag for Northern Ireland, in an effort to resolve divisions over the Union flag and Irish Tricolour, he has asked how it might be brought about.

"What might a process to design and validate a new NI flag look like?" he questions.

"What role might such a flag play in civic life?"

Dr Haass also posed further questions to politicians on the flying of flags generally - such as where they should be flown, how a 'code of conduct' might work and how to deal with any breaches.

The diplomat, who has been chairing the process aimed at finding solutions to contentious issues, remains determined to meet his self-imposed deadline of the end of the year.

In no way is what we are trying to do out of the question. I believe that we are aiming high, but we are aiming well within the range of what can and, I would say, should be accomplished.

Dr Richard Haass

While other issues - including parades and the past - also need to be resolved, flags are particularly pertinent one year on from the decision to fly the Union flag on designated days at Belfast City Hall.

The change in policy, which was opposed by unionist politicians, resulted in major protests by loyalists - some of which, over the Christmas period last year, resulted in serious disruption and even violence on the streets.

Smaller-scale protests are continuing, with a city centre demonstration passing off largely peacefully at the weekend.

Northern Ireland does not currently have its own official flag, and the Union flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the only flag used by government.

Concerns have been raised by nationalists about the inclusivity of using the Union flag in areas where some people claim Irish citizenship.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, people born in Northern Ireland are legally entitled to choose whether they are British or Irish.

Previous suggestions have included flying both the Union flag and the Irish Tricolour side-by-side, or flying neither of them.

Unofficially, St Patrick's Saltire is sometimes used when Northern Ireland is being represented alongside England, Scotland, and Wales.

The Ulster Banner - based on, but not to be confused with the provincial flag of nine-county Ulster - is sometimes used, often in a sporting context.

It was the official flag of Northern Ireland from 1953 to 1972, but has not held that status since then.

The DUP's priority on the issue of flags in the Haass process will be on the Union flag. It is our national flag and should be properly recognised as such throughout Northern Ireland and especially in Belfast.

Nigel Dodds, DUP

Responding to the questions posed by Dr Haass, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said that his party stands "four-square" behind the Union flag.

"Our approach to the Haass discussions will be to ensure the Union flag is treated with respect as the national flag," he said.

"We will not be party to any process which dilutes the status of our national flag.

"Other parties are at liberty to put forward their ideas, but this should not be misinterpreted as having the DUP's endorsement or support."

Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott said: "The principle of consent was enshrined in the Belfast Agreement and acknowledged in all agreements since then.

"By recognising Northern Ireland`s position as part of the United Kingdom, those who signed up to these agreements also acknowledged that the flag of the country is the Union flag.

"Only when all parties join us in reaffirming that point can we look at other issues in respect of flags and emblems."

None of the nationalist parties wanted to comment on the issue on Tuesday.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
joe in Belfast wrote (130 days ago):
Bigb, The anthem has already gone, how many places IE theatres, cinemas and sporting events play the national anthem at the end of the performances.
Michael Monaghan in Belfast wrote (132 days ago):
Ernie in East Belfast needs to understand 99% or more of Americans recognise themselves as 'American' so no reason for them not to fly the stars and stripes, in the north of Ireland we have two traditions one British and one Irish hardly a case of everyone supporting flying the Union Flag- if that was case how else did Belfast city council vote to take it down ? (Democratic vote) - time the Unionists realised that half the people of Belfast and for that matter the north of Ireland are Irish, need to wake up to this fact because some day they are going to be the minority .. Why else would the Unionist parties start looking into encouraging Catholic support .. Maybe because the Protestant Unionist vote is dwindling ?? - just need to look at the voting pattern here after each election ?? The gap is narrowing .. Looks like the Unionist days are numbered ?? So no Ernie we are nothing like America lol
Thomas in Co Antrim wrote (132 days ago):
Well said Deeko!
Taxi Driver in Outside with the meter running! wrote (132 days ago):
Taxi for Haass!
Dublin Jack Keane in Dublin wrote (132 days ago):
How about a Union Jill? That is, the Union Jack design but in Irish colours. Green where the blue is. White where the white is. And orange where the red is. Or a united kingdom of Ireland flag modelled after Scotland's Saint Andrew's Cross. With green where the blue is. White where the white is. And an off-centred inserted orange saltire like the Saint Patrick's saltire in the present British union flag.
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