Unionists have unanimously rejected proposals by former US diplomat Richard Haass about creating a new flag for Northern Ireland.
Dr Haass, who is chairing talks on Northern Ireland’s past, has asked the five main Stormont parties for their views on a potential new Northern Ireland flag.
The issue is one of 10 issues raised in a letter to the parties’ negotiators.
He asked: “What might a process to design and validate a new Northern Ireland flag look like? What role might such a flag play in civic life?”
But DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds responded that his party stands “four-square behind the Union Flag as the flag of our country – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.
He added: “Our approach to the Haass discussions will be to ensure the Union Flag is treated with respect as the national flag.”
He added: “It is our national flag and should be properly recognised as such throughout Northern Ireland and especially in Belfast.”
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,” he said.
“Only when all parties join us in reaffirming that point can we look at other issues in respect of flags and emblems.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said Dr Haass’s suggestions were “totally unacceptable”.
“No country’s flag is neutral,” he said. “It is a symbol of that country. An emblem of sovereignty. The flying of the Union Flag shows that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The Ulster Banner recognised our allegiance to the monarchy of the UK by the inclusion of the Crown.
“A so-called neutral flag would be an attack on Northern Ireland’s position in the UK and a dilution of our Britishness: a ploy to diminish and phase out the Union Flag.
“The proposal would be totally unacceptable to the majority of people in Northern Ireland who time and time again have voted in a way which shows they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom.
“The proposal is insulting and certainly wouldn’t be accepted in Dr Haass’s own country.” The suggestion “will increase unionist fears about what exactly is going on in the Haass talks”, he added.
l Belfast DUP councillor Ruth Patterson said up to 300 people held a peaceful protest at City Hall last night to mark the first anniversay of a vote in the council to stop flying the Union Flag on a daily basis.
The councillor addressed the crowd and later praised the PSNI policing of the event.