Leaked flags proposals ‘not agreed by parties’

Jamie Bryson published the claims on the Unionist Voice blog site
Jamie Bryson published the claims on the Unionist Voice blog site

Claims by a loyalist blogger that the Commission on Flags is set to recommend restrictions on bonfires and flying the Union Flag are premature, it is claimed.

Jamie Bryson made the claims on the blog ‘Unionist Voice’ yesterday.

However, a spokesman for the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition told the News Letter that none of the issues he reported from leaked papers had been agreed by the five parties.

Mr Bryson claimed that Sinn Fein representatives on the commission have demanded a recommendation that the Irish flag must be flown in parity with the Union Flag on public buildings, or that no flags should fly at all.

He added: “Sinn Fein have said they will not sign up to any document that recommends the flying of the union flag alone, for any period of time, on any public buildings.”

He also claimed that the commission was to recommend “a licensing scheme by the back door” which would require permission to build bonfires and empower land owners to control them.

He concluded: “With the report, which no unionist on the commission has signed up to, currently drifting in the direction of regulation and de-facto licensing of unionist culture, is it not time that the DUP and UUP withdraw their representatives from the commission and essentially put a halt to the process which is clearly heading towards further eradication of PUL culture?”

However, twice in his report he emphasised that unionists “have not signed up to any final agreement”.

The commission was formed in 2016 under the DUP and Sinn Fein’s ‘Fresh Start’ agreement. It was due to report to the first and deputy first minister in December, although it is not clear who it might report to in the absence of an Executive.

One source close to the commission agreed with Mr Bryson that the five political parties involved have not signed off on any discussions.

“Rather than one draft paper there are a wide range of papers under discussion,” they said.

“Discussions have been bogged down in disagreement and trench warfare.”

The main issues under discussion, they said, are flags, bonfires, education, media and IRA memorialising.

“Unionists have raised concern that the Catholic education sector is strongly politicised with nationalist plays, Irish traditional music, GAA and the teaching of Irish history. But by comparison state schools are very ‘bland’ and tend to steer away from anything Protestant or unionist.”

Unionists have also raised concerns about “undue focus” on Irish culture and anti-unionist sectarianism in the media.

“The only agreement is on abstract principles. But as soon as it comes to applying them it is chaotic.

“One of the main issues raised by unionists has been on IRA memorials, murals and signs, which intimidate their victims daily.”

Other issues raised by unionists are the tradition of naming Sinn Fein branches after IRA members and the number of GAA grounds also named after terrorists.

It is understood that Sinn Fein support for a council playground in Newry, named after IRA man Raymond McCreesh, has also been raised.

A commission spokesman told the News Letter its work is ongoing, its report is not yet complete and no recommendations have been agreed.

“No decisions have been taken regarding the publication of the report,” he added.