A unionist attempt to fly the Union Flag every day from Stormont’s Parliament Buildings has been defeated after three unionist MLAs failed to support the proposal, leaving the Speaker to use his casting vote to defeat the attempt.
Voting on the DUP proposal – which was supported by the UUP, TUV and Ukip – was tied at 53-53.
At that point the Speaker, former Sinn Fein MLA Mitchel McLaughlin – who last year was supported for the role by the DUP, despite some internal dissent – used his casting vote to ensure that there is not all-year flag flying.
The decision was taken by the Assembly Commission, the cross-party committee of MLAs which is responsible for running of Parliament Buildings.
However, after the defeat of the DUP proposal an Alliance proposal to use the Whitehall list of designated days for flying the national flag was approved.
That means that the flag will now be flown from Parliament Buildings on 18 days a year – three more days than at present.
Sinn Fein and the SDLP, who voted for flying the flag on designated days at Belfast City Hall, voted against even flying the flag on designated days at Stormont.
Smaller MLAs and independents cannot attend meetings of the Assembly Commission but can allocate their vote to one of the larger parties to cast.
Independent Claire Sugden confirmed that she had not allowed her vote to be cast for any of the options.
The East Londonderry unionist said that she did not allocate her vote to the UUP because it was voting to fly the flag every day, which she does not support, and that she did not allocate it to Alliance because of that party’s involvement in the flag dispute in Belfast.
Ms Sugden acknowledged that it could seem odd that she did not allow Alliance to cast her vote – as she supports the 18 designated days option for which that party voted – but said that she did not want “the message of me voting alongside Alliance” on the flag issue.
She added that in a “very volatile political environment” she though it was “irresponsible” of the DUP to bring forward a proposal to fly the flag every day, something she claimed was “political point scoring”.
NI21 MLA Basil McCrea, independent John McCallister and Green MLA Steven Agnew all allocated their votes to Alliance.
The designated days decision is in line with the recommendations of an Equality Impact Assessment carried out by a consultant.
The DUP has condemned the unionist MLAs who voted against the party’s proposal.
North Belfast MLA Paula Bradley welcomed the slight increase in the number of days which the flag will fly from Parliament Buildings but added: “It is deeply disappointing that some MLAs who claim to be unionists voted with Sinn Fein and the SDLP against my proposal for flying the Union Flag every day.
“It will be a matter for them to explain to the electorate why they decided to vote against the flying of their national flag.”