Doug Beattie: 'Re-empowered flags and culture body could help end Stormont stalemate'

The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (CFICT) could help resolve the current political impasse if it was “re-empowered” by the political parties, an Ulster Unionist MLA has claimed.

Doug Beattie MC MLA
Doug Beattie MC MLA

The body, set up in June 2016, has carried out hundreds of hours of work on issues such as rights, language and identity at a cost to the taxpayer of more than £730,000. But commission member Doug Beattie MC insists it is being ignored by the political parties, which have “sidelined it.”

The commission was supposed to release its findings by December 2017. However, a year and a half later it still hasn’t produced a report on its work.

Mr Beattie said the current situation doesn’t represent value for money for taxpayers, but insists the commission could play a key role in finding a way forward on many of the contentious issues stalling a return to power-sharing at Stormont.

“Without a report the money being used is not giving value for money. But if they were re-empowered they really could do something for us,” he said.

Mr Beattie, who as an elected representative receives no remuneration for his CFICT role, said the commission has been looking at language and identity for the past three years and yet a working group for the Stormont talks is looking at same topics and "replicating the work that is already being done and the public are paying for."

"If it is not going to be allowed to do its job, if political parties are going to take away the very essence of what it was designed for and put it into the Stormont talks forum, then what is the point in paying the money for it? But if they say 'we have spent this money, we have commissioned these people, including political representatives from all five political parties, let's re-empower it to do its job' then they (the commission) could come up with solutions to the impasses we now have on identity and language."

The Upper Bann MLA said while the commission has produced no agreed report, or even a draft ready to publish, it does have “a considerable amount of work and written documents”.

“The commission has met for 900 hours – 900 hours of work and yet it is being ignored by the political parties as a method of getting past this impasse,” he continued.

“We could carry on as we are now and we could keep spending money as we are now if we would continue to meet, but without the political will, without the political support it is kind of rudderless. That is why I am asking for this re-empowerment, this re-affirmation of the commission to let it go and do its work because it has come up with some fantastic, innovative ideas.

“If the political parties would just re-empower the FICT commission to finish their work then maybe we would have a solution to the whole problem.”

Commission member Nelson McCausland, a former DUP MLA for North Belfast, declined to comment on the matter, saying he couldn't engage in public discussion about the commission's work.

According to the Executive Office, the total cost for the commission (June 2016 to end of March 2019) was £731,899 - £402,326 of which has been paid to 14 of the panel's members for remuneration and expenses.

A CFICT spokesperson said: "The commission has undertaken a considerable amount of work in relation to the issues within its remit, many of which are complex and longstanding. Members are not remunerated when they are not undertaking commission business.

"Publication arrangements will be determined once a report has been agreed.

"In December 2018, the commission decided not to meet in plenary format due to the political context at that time and agreed to review the position in June 2019."