Call for publication of ‘flags and culture’ report

Stormont MLAs have heard fears that a long-awaited report into dealing with flags and culture in Northern Ireland may never be published.

Flags have been erected on lamposts at the Craigavon Area Hospital roundabout.
Flags have been erected on lamposts at the Craigavon Area Hospital roundabout.

A Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) was originally set up in 2016 in a bid to find consensus on the contentious issues, but devolution collapsed before it could deliver its report.

Its findings were finally submitted to the first and deputy first ministers last July, but have not been made public.

During ministerial question time yesterday, MLA Trevor Lunn asked for an update on the report.

Sinn Fein junior minister in the Executive Office, Declan Kearney said: “An Executive paper on progressing the FICT report was approved by the Executive on March 25 2021.

“A FICT working group is taking forward the steps in the Executive paper including cross-departmental engagement. Decisions on the publication of the FICT report will be a matter for all Executive ministers working together.”

Mr Lunn responded: “There is some history to this that these reports are not always published in a timely fashion and this one appears to have been side-lined to a working group, which indicates to me that it perhaps might never see the light of day.

“This report apparently cost about £800,000. Can the junior minister give us a more detailed reason as to why it hasn’t been published?”

Mr Kearney said: “I share the apprehension that the member has expressed. I can assure you that it is my full determination that we will see this process fully implemented and that there will be publication of the FICT report.

“I believe it is essential as to how we move forward as an inclusive, united and pluralist society where there is respect and regard shown to all traditions.

“However, it is now almost a year since we took possession of the report and I have sought repeatedly with officials and through special advisors to get this matter expedited over the course of recent months.”

Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd has expressed concern about flags being erected in ‘mixed housing developments’ across Upper Bann.

The MLA said: “My office has recieved several complaints about the erection of Union Flags and other loyalist regalia in mixed housing developmens across Upper Bann.

“Residents from across communities have informed me they don’t want or support such displays.”

Mr O’Dowd added: “The use of flags etc to mark out territory is nothing new but there appears to be attempts to intimidate Catholic families from certain areas by the use of flags and other displays.”

In Lisburn, there have been political tensions after flags appeared on the Thaxton roundabout in recent weeks.

In response to criticism of the flags, DUP Lagan Valley group said: “The Alliance, SDLP, and Sinn Fein parties have no right to attempt to demonise this community. We all know that this is a culture war and all things which represent our Britishness are deemed offensive.”

Accompanying the Facebook post was a picture of councillors Alan Givan and Paul Porter with some of the Thaxton flags.