Alliance MLA: New unionist leaders should finish commission work on flags, identity and culture

A letter from Paula Bradshaw MLA:

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 4:00 am
Letter to the editor

The elections of the leaders of both unionist parties offers a real opportunity for new political leadership, not least on the issue of flags, symbols and emblems, and ultimately towards ending the scourge of paramilitarism.

Since 2016, almost one million pounds of public money has been spent on the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT), yet the commission’s report has still not been made public by the Executive Office.

As part of this process, concern was raised about the potential division caused by the use of minority languages in public spaces; however, that moves us inevitably to the use of flags and emblems, often with paramilitary symbols, to mark territory.

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The FICT Commission’s work involved all parties and included engagement events across Northern Ireland.

Its aim was to develop a response to this, enabling flags and emblems to be displayed in a celebratory and appropriate manner and to move away from their use for intimidation and exclusion.

A shared space does not necessarily mean a neutral space; but it does mean any display of flags, emblems and memorials should be reasonable, appropriate and sensitive to the diversity in our society.

The truth is the last leader of unionism stalled this work.

The first minister’s idea of outreach was to approach representatives of paramilitary groups and the loyal orders, without reflecting the true diversity across our society and the desire in many communities to move past paramilitarism.

One priority challenge of the new leaders of unionism will be to take this work forward, reflecting that Northern Ireland is a diverse and shared society and recognising that a quarter of a century after the Agreement the prominence given to paramilitaries in certain communities is unacceptable.

During the leadership contests, I hope we will hear a commitment to meaningful outreach, to work with the rest of us to deliver on the FICT Commission’s work, and to move towards a genuinely inclusive Northern Ireland with shared space maximised and paramilitary control a thing of the past.

Paula Bradshaw, Alliance MLA, South Belfast

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