At a time when the Union Flag is under attack, many unionists have instinctively rejected US diplomat Richard Haass’s suggestion of a Northern Ireland flag.
Yet the proposal, in the form of a question to the main parties, is one which could arguably strengthen rather than weaken the Union and cement the emerging Northern Irish identity.
It is an anomaly within the United Kingdom that Northern Ireland is the only one of the kingdom’s four constituent nations not to have its own official flag.
The Ulster Banner, with its familiar red cross, white star, red hand and crown, is still used by many. But its lack of official status (lost after Stormont was prorogued in 1972) was nationally apparent last year when, at a Royal event of vast historical significance, an unfamiliar flag represented Northern Ireland.
At the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee river pageant on the Thames, the familiar standards of England, Scotland and Wales adorned three corners of Her Majesty’s vessel while the less recognisable cross of St Patrick represented Northern Ireland.
Dr Haass’s hint at correcting that anomaly received a cool reception from the DUP and UUP, with TUV leader Jim Allister outrightly rejecting the proposal. Those responses stemmed from a fear that such a proposal is an attempt to remove the Union Flag and dilute the Province’s Britishness.
There are those who will wish that to be the case. But, just as Scotland, England and Wales are no less British for having their own standards, so an accepted Northern Ireland flag could and should complement our national flag rather than replace it.
While a Northern Ireland flag should be a symbol around which we can all coalesce, it is important that any new banner does not become an excuse for not flying the Union Flag.
And any proposal to fly the Irish Tricolour in Northern Ireland is so unacceptable to the overwhelming majority who want to keep the Union that it should not even be discussed in the talks.