Flag row hits drivers

Jeffrey Donaldson MP
Jeffrey Donaldson MP

A fresh flag row has erupted after it emerged Northern Ireland will be the only UK region not to incorporate the Union Flag on new driving licences.

Announcing the changes for drivers in England, Scotland and Wales, transport secretary Claire Perry said: “British motorists will soon be able to fly the flag with pride.”

Ms Perry said: “People in this country rightly take pride in our national flag which is why I am delighted it will now be displayed on British driving licences. Celebrating Britain strengthens our sense of national identity and our unity. I will feel proud to carry my new licence and I hope others will too.”

However, a spokesman for the Driver and Vehicle Agency NI (DVA) said the local licences would continue to display the European flag only.

“In 2012 it was agreed that, recognising the particular sensitivities surrounding symbols in Northern Ireland, NI driving licences, which are produced for the Driver and Vehicle Agency in Swansea by the DVLA, should continue to be produced without the flag or crest,” the spokesman said.

In a statement, the DVLA explained: “The changes will apply to motorists in England, Scotland and Wales and provide road users with a symbolic sign of their national identity.”

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson described the exclusion as “highly regrettable”.

Mr Donaldson said: “It is an issue we will be raising with the Department of Transport in London. One would have hoped that, after the Scottish referendum, the government at Westminster would have learned a few lessons about the need to proactively promote the Union.”

Tom Elliott of the UUP said he would be writing to the transport minister for an explanation.

“We are part of the United Kingdom and I don’t see why they wouldn’t have that level of consistency.

“I would be interested to hear their reasoning for not having it in Northern Ireland. Irrespective of what people believe their identity to be - and people have a right to believe that they are Irish is they so wish - the constitutional position remains that we are part of the United Kingdom and that was enshrined in the Belfast Agreement.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said the decision to exclude Northern Ireland “will cause great hurt and offence”.

He said: “The powers that be should realise that measures such as this will only serve to increase the determination of ordinary people in Northern Ireland to display the Union flag.

“It is important to remember as well that the Stormont House Agreement establishes a Flags Commission which, it is anticipated, will consult the Irish Government on the issue of the Union flag as well as expressions of Irishness in Northern Ireland. So the protestations of some on this matter should be treated with a degree of scepticism.”