THE row over flags at Belfast’s City Hall has intensified with two parties disputing figures showing the accepted practice in other UK regions.
A war of words has been raging between the DUP and Alliance since unionist councillors circulated leaflets attacking proposals to change the current policy.
At present, the Union Flag flies over the City Hall every day of the year. However, the council will vote on Monday to decide if it should only be flown on a handful of designated days, left as it is, or removed altogether.
In the leaflet, the cross-party unionists claimed they had examined the policy of 100 local authorities in Great Britain and found that more than 90 per cent fly the national flag from public buildings every day.
Alliance has carried out its own survey of all 400 county and metropolitan councils on the mainland and claims the results show the majority favour designated days only.
According to the Alliance figures, 36 per cent have a designated days policy, 34 per cent fly it every day while 30 per cent failed to respond.
DUP councillor Christopher Stalford has defended the unionist survey – and said the new Alliance figures disproved the previous claims by the party that the designated days policy was widespread across the UK.
“The DUP asked more than 100 councils on the mainland what their policy was concerning the flying of the flag. We found that more than 90 per cent of them flew the flag all year round,” he said.
Mr Stalford said the new figures did not represent “mainstream practice” and said the Alliance position had “everything to do with the sectarian agenda of the nationalist political parties”.
Despite the new statistics showing an overall percentage favouring designated days, five of the seven council types (London boroughs, Wales, unitary, metropolitan and county councils) have a predominantly year-round policy.
Only in Scotland (32 council areas) and the English shires (201) was there a majority in favour of designated days. The Union Flag is a permanent fixture on only 50 shire councils’ premises compared to 82 respondents with a designated days policy. The Alliance Party is standing over its current policy, which Councillor Maire Hendron has described as showing a “commitment to a shared future” rather than “clinging to the politics of the past”.
Ms Hendron said: “Just last weekend DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson said he believed the majority of Catholics would now choose to remain as part of Northern Ireland. The DUP has proved with its continued campaign for the flag at Belfast City Hall that it is not truly devoted to creating a shared society.
“Its council group continues to stir up unionist fears instead of making its decision based on the future of all citizens.
“But likewise Sinn Fein and the SDLP must recognise the political reality of Northern Ireland’s place within the UK. They must respect the Good Friday Agreement and realise that removing the flag permanently from Belfast City Hall is not the right decision.”
Meanwhile, a group calling itself United Protestant Voice has said it will take part in a protest outside City Hall on Monday. The group has urged protestors to bring with them a Union Flag and a “peaceful mindset”.