Unionists have reacted angrily to revelations that an SDLP Stormont minister ensured Northern Ireland will be the only UK region not to have the Union Flag on new driving licences.
Announcing the changes for drivers in England, Scotland and Wales recently, transport secretary Claire Perry said: “British motorists will soon be able to fly the flag with pride.”
It was revealed in recent days that Northern Ireland will be the only part of the UK not to have the Union Flag on new licences.
But yesterday the Department of the Environment (DOE) and SDLP both revealed it was their Minister who took a decision not to follow Great Britain’s lead.
A DOE spokesman said Department for Transport (DfT) Ministers wrote to the Environment Minister Alex Attwood in 2012 to inform him of the changes.
“Driver licensing is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland and is the responsibility of the Minister of the Environment,” he said. “The DfT letter recognised the particular sensitivities surrounding symbols here and proposed retaining a separate production line for Northern Ireland driver licences, which are produced under contract by DVLA in Swansea. Following consideration of the DfT letter, it was decided not to proceed with any change to the Northern Ireland driver licence.”
An SDLP spokesman confirmed that the matter is devolved and “falls within the responsibility of the Environment Minister”.
He added: “There is no pressing case for introducing changes to the Northern Ireland driving licence and the Minister has rightly chosen to avoid politicising the issue by retaining the current design.”
UUP MLA Tom Elliott hit back that the Belfast Agreement, which he said the SDLP holds as “a bastion of their armoury”, is implicit that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom until the majority decide otherwise.
“The SDLP criticise others for not holding to the principles of that agreement, but here they are deciding against both the ethos and the letter of the Belfast Agreement
Likewise, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said that the SDLP claim to be “the guardians of the Belfast Agreement” but at the same time, continue to use the unconstitutional term ‘the North of Ireland’ in order to “whitewash” Northern Ireland’s British identity.
However, he said he does not believe the matter is actually devolved, adding that he will be going over the local minister’s head to appeal the decision.