Long awaited report published on report on Flags Identity Culture and Tradition

The final report from the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) has been published today.

Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 4:12 pm
Updated Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 11:39 pm
First and Deputy First Ministers Paul Givan and Michelle O'Neill have published the report. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

First Minister Paul Givan said: “I welcome the publication of the FICT report following the significant work of the Commission, who have considered a range of complex issues. It is right that the public have a chance to see the report and have their say, and today’s publication will allow them to do that.”

The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The FICT report examines a number of sensitive issues across our community. Addressing these issues is an important part of moving our shared society forward and I put on record my thanks to the Commission for their efforts in undertaking this challenging work.”

The working group led by Junior Minister Middleton and Junior Minister Kearney, which was established to consider issues in relation to the report, will continue to meet.

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This story will be updated this evening.

Read the full report here.

One of the academics behind the new report has insisted “progress” has been made on the issues covered with “consensus” on a number of divisive topics.

Dr Dominic Bryan, one of the chairs of the commission responsible for the report, made the comments in a radio interview yesterday in advance of its publication.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, Dr Bryan said: “I think we’ve moved forward in significant ways and I hope when people read it they feel this real positive stuff about what we can do in a diverse society.”

He continued: “As has already been reported we haven’t got agreement on some things but I think it’s important to remember we’ve got five political parties who have given us consensus on — I’m told — 44 recommendations.

“I hope people will be pleased that all of our main political parties have found consensus on ways of talking about cultural rights, for instance. We got agreement through all the political parties on these issues.”

On the failure of Stormont’s Executive Office to publish the report until now, Dr Bryan said: “I can’t speak for why the Executive Office haven’t been able to get it through but there are quite a lot of complexities going on here around the cultural area — including two new language commissions being set up, the setting up of an office of identity and cultural expression which was in the new deal new approach, and all of this stuff has been going forward.

“And all of this is in the mix so, in fairness to them [the Executive Office], there are quite a lot of complexities into how you move this forward.”

Dr Bryan also said the report had sought to find ways to enable, rather than restrict, “cultural practice”.

“If you look at bonfires, for example, they are surrounded by a whole lot of legislation which is really nothing to do with the celebrations and commemorations which bonfires are part of,” he said. “And they sort of get in the way.

“So this report is starting to look at the legislative areas and we are suggesting ways that will enable cultural practice.

“We haven’t set out in this to stop anybody doing anything. Actually, contrary to that, we look at ways people can be enabled to do things within the law.”

He said there was “less progress” on the topic of flags in public areas.

Dr Bryan added: “With the flags on public buildings, that is the one area of all of our chapters where I think we got less progress and I think we are all disappointed at that.”

Justice Minister Naomi Long has accused Stormont’s Executive Office of a “complete failure of leadership” for failing to “drive forward” progress on the report.

The Alliance Party leader, speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, criticised the absence of a plan to put the report’s proposals into practice.

She said the long awaited report had now been “abandoned”.

She also slammed the long delay in publishing the report, which was given to the Executive “nearly two years ago”.

“I think it’s absolutely scandalous that £800,000 was spent on a report that we have had to wait almost two years to see,” she said. “We were told it would be published with an implementation plan.”

She continued: “I’ve been writing to the Executive Office and my party’s had a debate in the Assembly on this in March, asking that it be published with an implementation plan so that we could start to take up some of those themes, and where there wasn’t agreement try to find agreement and where there was agreement try to implement it.

“Instead, it’s now just being orphaned with nobody taking responsibility for it, which I think is absolutely scandalous.”

The minister added: “These are issues that affect people’s everyday lives - bonfires, flags, paramilitary trappings on buildings, all of those things that people are constantly concerned about and raise with us regularly. Instead of taking political leadership and trying to drive a programme of work to address them, this is now simply being abandoned.

“Unfortunately, I did say at the time of the Haas talks that that might well be the outcome which was one of the reasons we were very lukewarm on the outcome of those talks.”

On whether the report’s findings would be put into practice by the devolved administration, she said: “It certainly doesn’t seem to be going to be implemented by the Executive Office.

“We will seek to try to drive forward some progress where we can on that report as a party.

“But obviously it should be being done on a cross-departmental basis, and it should be driven forward by the Executive Office. It’s a complete failure of leadership on their part.”

South Belfast DUP MLA and lead member on the Executive Office Committee Christopher Stalford welcomed the publication of the report.Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition Report.

“The public should now give its views,” he said.

“The answer on these matters is mutual respect but it is hard to come by when Sinn Fein campaigns to remove every trace of Britishness from Northern Ireland.

“Sinn Fein in 2021 denied unionist MLAs the opportunity to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary by laying a simple stone or planting a rose bush in Stormont. Sinn Fein snub the Royal Family. Unable to even mark the Duke of Edinburgh’s passing in the same way as other counties.

“Such cultural and identity weaponization will make solutions very difficult to come by as some want cultural domination rather than respect.

“We are complex society drawn mainly from the British Isles. A mix of Irish, English, Welsh and Scots. Some of us are British, some are Irish, some are Northern Irish and there are new and emerging identities.

“I will always defend the dignified display of the flag of my country but I will never make excuses for the display of anything that could be associated with a paramilitary organisation. I will always promote the celebration of culture but I will never support anything which glorifies terrorism or promotes violence. I trust every Party will arrive at a similar position.”

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson said loyalists should be very attentive to the ultimate outworking of any regulation.

“It is not about enhancing culture, it is about strangling it- slowly but decisively- via carefully constructed regulatory architecture which is superficially attractive, and often buttressed with financial incentives, but which is ultimately culturally corrosive,” he said.

“The purpose of all of these things is to neutralise, and by extension diminish, PUL culture and traditions. The ‘process’ requires the incremental dismantling of the Union, and a key part of that is stage by stage watering down expressions of British and Unionist culture and sovereignty.

“This is never more evident than in the FICT proposal for a civic flag. This requires unionism accepting that the sovereign flag of the United Kingdom should not fly, and instead should be replaced by a neutral flag. That of course therefore means further dilution of visible manifestations of our sovereignty.

“If the 1998 Agreement was a settlement rather than a process, then that settlement should respect the primacy of sovereignty and expressions of same. “The way forward on flags and bonfires in voluntary regulation schemes whereby loyalist communities would self regulate. Any engagement with statutory schemes, in the context of the cultural war whereby statutory bodies are often nationalist soldiers in that battle, would be foolish and self defeating.

“You can not regulate culture. I should say however that the proposals for education in terms of Human Rights and the Law is a valuable proposal. PUL communities have been frozen out of the legal arena, and there is a significant disconnect. In contrast, nationalist communities have very successfully weaponised the law to advance their political objectives. Unionists and loyalists must build the capacity to engage in this kind of lawfare, rather than being confined to the sidelines.”

Read the full report here.

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