Discussions about creating an official flag for Northern Ireland have been discouraged by “the establishment”, one of the UK’s leading flag experts has said.
Charles Ashburner, who is chief executive of the world’s largest flag organisation, the Flag Institute, said that the issue needed to be discussed.
Mr Ashburner said that the institute, which provides advice to governments and the UN, had several times discussed the anomaly that Northern Ireland lacks a flag.
Richard Haass raised the possibility of creating a new flag as part of the talks which he is chairing but most politicians gave it a cool response.
Mr Ashburner told the News Letter: “I think it would be fair to say that ‘the establishment’ has tried absolutely everything to avoid the subject in that period [since 1972 when the Ulster banner lost official status], for good reason obviously.
“The difficulty is that the UK is somewhat unique amongst developed nations in not having either definite legislation controlling our flags or even a government department with that responsibility.”
He said the issue had been left because no-one was responsible, other than the College of Arms, which he described as “reactionary rather than revolutionary”.
And Mr Ashburner revealed that the institute had written to Dr Haass offering its services but that he had not replied.
He added: “I’m not entirely sure that Dr Haass has come to this as gently as he could have — I think he’s maybe perhaps not understood the flag problem as far as it pertains to Northern Ireland.
“But I think it’s a conversation that needs to be started.”
The institute’s chief vexillologist (flag expert), Graham Bartram, said some people in Northern Ireland were “confused” about the issue, believing that “if Northern Ireland has a new flag then what we are saying is that the Union Flag won’t be used any more”.
“That’s not the case. All the other countries of the United Kingdom have two flags — they have the Union Flag and they have the national (Welsh, Scottish or English) flag.”
He added: “The most important thing is that, whatever they come up with, all the community are at least not unhappy with it...it has to be something that even if they don’t love it, they don’t hate it.”
Another notion to emerge from the Haass talks which has been rejected by unionists was to fly the Irish tricolour alongside the Union Flag during official visits to Northern Ireland by the Republic’s president.
Mr Bartram, who went to school in Belfast, said that such a move was not entirely novel as during state visits to London the Mall would be lined with alternating Union Flags and the flag of the visiting president.
He added: “But what we wouldn’t necessarily do is fly an Irish flag on Buckingham Palace and we probably wouldn’t fly one on Parliament.
“But we might fly one in the square outside Parliament. The [foreign] flag is used more decoratively rather than implying sovereignty.”