It was right to establish flags and identity commission but its prospect of consensus was always slim

News Letter editorial of Thursday December 2 2021:

By Editorial
Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 10:41 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 10:53 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) report has been published, after a long delay.

Setting up such a commission was the right thing to do. If Northern Ireland is to be a harmonious, stable society in which people across the community can feel respected in their identity and cultural affiliations, then the very least we can do is try to navigate a way through these thorny topics.

The report is 168 pages long so will take some time to absorb. That it has been able to make 44 recommendations given the breadth of its commissioner base (seven of whom were from political parties) is progress of sorts.

But on core topics such as flying flags from lamposts and public buildings, on terrorist memorials, and on the handling of bonfires there is no agreement.

That Declan Kearney, the chairman of Sinn Fein, is calling for an “orderly implementation” of the proposals hardly gives cause for optimism about the likely fate of the report.

While the approach of republicans towards, for example, the Northern Ireland centenary has been depressingly intransigent, in a way it has helped to clarify things. There is no generosity and there seems to be little prospect of generosity.

Disgracefully, Northern Ireland has not been allowed to celebrate its 100th birthday — we have not even been allowed to be marked at Stormont with a centenary stone. Not even a church service of celebration of our wonderful country (the Armagh service barely mentioned NI, let alone celebrated it).

What chance is there of wider agreement?

And what prospect is there of consensus on bonfires given that Sinn Fein and the SDLP over the summer took to the courts to try to force a resolution to a contested bonfire in north Belfast? Or when there are efforts to float the idea of two national flags flying on public buildings in NI, which would be a symbolic undermining of UK sovereignty and the consent principle?

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