Flags were the main issue for discussion at Stormont on Monday – but there wasn’t a single word said in anger.
Instead, it was smiles all round as the wider Stormont Estate took receipt of a prestigious Green Flag Award.
The gong is the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces in the UK – and Green Flags are to parks what Blue Flags are to beaches.
The News Letter dropped by at Stormont to see what park-users felt about their newly honoured green space.
Allen Stubbs, a 66-year-old tourist from London, said: “This is even better than the Royal Parks of London.”
His wife Jane, also 66, described the area as “a beautiful garden – tranquil and well manicured”.
Nigel Murphy, a counsellor from Manchester, was also visiting, and said: “I know how hard it is for a small park, so getting it up to this scale is absolutely amazing.”
He added: “There is a place in Manchester called Heaton Park, it’s one of the biggest in Europe, and we couldn’t keep it to the standard you’ve got here.”
The garden is appreciated by locals as well as tourists.
Ben McElveen, a 19-year-old student, said: “It’s a beautiful piece of land and being local to the area, I am here often.
“Stormont is a fanastic place for families. I think it’s a great place for socialising, specially during warm summer days. I have a younger brother and sister, and they love it, especially the play park.”
He added: ”It’s great to hear that Stormont is getting the recognition it deserves. It’s always great to have a park nearby and I’m grateful Stormont Estate is mine.”
Ian Humphreys, chief executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, which administers the Green Flag scheme in Northern Ireland, said: “This park here is perfect. It’s home to the local government, so the grandeur of this, you won’t meet anywhere else.”
Tom Wightman, part of the estate management unit, was ecstatic about the win and said: “We see this as a vital stepping stone in helping maintain the standards. It gives us goals to strive for.”
When asked about his next step, he said: “We will move forward from here, by using this award.” He mentioned the addition of “litter and park manager summits”, which would help the managers network and interact.
The award, he said, was “the start of a journey, where we can all help improve ourselves”.
He added: “It also gives us the opportunity to go out to the community. We like to encourage voluntary groups, and hopefully this will motivate them to use the estate for more events.”