NI21 call for ministers to pledge a flag commitment & for councils to regulate. But flags aren’t the only issue?

Tonight, NI21 have launched an intervention into the debate around flags. You can read their statement and find the link to their video on an earlier post. It’s notable that the video is very careful to balance shots of Union flags and Irish tricolours. The messaging is not aimed at just one community – though perhaps one community is where the strongest reaction and criticism will come from.

Over on the NI21 website I also spotted a longer position paper which contains more detail and thinking from the fledgling party.

NI21 believes the Union Flag should be flown on designated days on Government Buildings.

NI21 believes the Union Flag should be flown on main council buildings on designated days.

NI21 believes that the manner in which Politicians and Ministers talk about, use and reflect upon official flags and symbols has a direct impact upon the way groups and communities within society use flags and symbols. For example when political representatives say things like, ‘it is ok to burn a national flag on a bonfire’, it calls into question the legitimacy of all national flags and suggests to others that it is ok to use a national flag as a tool to divide.

So NI21 suggest that a “flag commitment” is added to the ministerial pledge of office, proposing the wording:

Despite differing and legitimate political opinions and objectives, Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive pledge to publicly recognise the Union flag as it represents the current constitutional status of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland’s place within it. Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive further pledge to publicly respect the regional flags of England, Scotland and Wales, UK standards and ensigns, the flag of the Republic of Ireland and all other national flags.

Around festivals and sporting events, NI21 feel that “local councils are the most appropriate and legitimate body to manage the use of flags”.

Organisations should make an application to a local council to place identified flags or emblems on public property in association with a given official festival, public event or sporting event. Such flags should be attributable to a specific organisation or individual as per regulations pertaining to election posters.

In the case of legal festivals, flags and emblems, the local council should be minded to accept applications; however, they should take into consideration any specific advice from the PSNI.

Councils should make all approvals time bound and if the applicant organisation does not remove their flags on the deadline the council should employ an agreeable third party to remove the flags with the relevant organisation being billed for the cost.

Very much following the example of how election posters are regulated and removed … though ignoring the potential personal security implications for anyone caught taking down a flag.

When I read the initial statement earlier this afternoon, my instinct was that the danger of attacking flags (or suggesting that they be respected and not left up to rot) is that it ignores one of the few sources of pride and value that remains in some communities. It needs to be joined up with positive intervention and listening to how working class communities have been left behind. Flags aren’t the underlying issue that needs to be fixed. They’re a symptom. Admittedly a tatty symptom. Respecting flags won’t immediately fix social deprivation.

Where is the early years focus? An education system that isn’t skewed to favouring the top end. Welfare reform that can be coupled with training and the hope of jobs? Finding ways of valuing health? While NI21 may not expect a flurry of working class votes, as a party seeking to be progressive they should never fear serving and improving the lot of communities outside their catchment or electoral clique.

Then at the end of the NI21 position paper I spotted the beginnings of an admission that the road to flag respect is paved with many other issues …

In this regard NI21 believes that a more proactive approach must be taken by politicians and lead Government agencies to bring down permanent flags from the main thoroughfares of Northern Ireland.

NI21 recognises that for many communities which are facing significant social problems such as unemployment, health inequalities, and educational underachievement, association with flags and symbols can be a source of pride and security.

NI21 is committed to working with all communities to help address these socio-economic issues. However, NI21 believes that the removal of permanent flags and paramilitary emblems will help communities develop. NI21 believes in and supports the positive development, celebration of local identities and community history which can help build civic pride beyond an association with a single flag or symbol. [emphasis added]

It’s good to see that after a few regional meetings and after their summer school NI21 have finally started to articulate some policies. Other parties will scoff at the approach. I imagine that Monday morning’s radio will earnestly digest and discuss the proposal to respect flags … and fail to get into the issues of ministerial pledges and the issues underlying this year’s flag flying frenzy.

I’m not sure Alliance will be able to find much to fault – other than the impracticality of following through with any of it without DUP and Sinn Fein support. NI21 will need to work hard if they choose to go beyond words in order to become champions for the other issues that the “faceless men” who put up flags – and their families – care about. That’s when they’ll really challenge the other parties.

, ,

  • Mc Slaggart

    “NI21 believes the Union Flag should be flown on main council buildings on designated days”.

    Why cause trouble in areas in which their is no issue about the flying of flags on council buildings?

  • Basil has flagged this up already on an earlier post. Just wondering if it is Slugger’s intention to let any political party/group to use the site to push specific policy?

  • shipbuilder

    “While NI21 may not expect a flurry of working class votes, as a party seeking to be progressive they should never fear serving and improving the lot of communities outside their catchment or electoral clique.”

    This isn’t intended as a criticism, but I think that’s a particularly Northern Ireland way of viewing ‘progressive’.
    It is and should be any progressive party’s priority to address issues such as inequality and social deprivation, indeed it is encapsulated in the very meaning of ‘progressive’.
    The issues of unemployment, education and so on, faced across the community in Northern Ireland, are baked into the cake of the status quo.
    There is no long term solution in seeking to make the middle classes comfortable by plastering a surface layer of non-sectarianism over fundamental cracks.

  • ThomasMourne

    I don’t see any good reason for showing respect to a flag, which to me is a piece of coloured cloth and nothing more.

    Flags are used in N. Ireland by those with a narrow-minded nationalist view of the world.

    They may get some sort of kick out of annoying others with their flag-waving but I feel sorry for those who are stuck in this situation and are blind to the many positive aspects of life in this part of the world.

  • IJP

    If so, what is the specific policy? I don’t see one here.

    The Councils idea solves nothing, and they know that – it takes us straight back to them and us. Tricolour on St Patrick’s Day on Nationalist Councils, Union Flag on Royal Birthdays on Unionist Councils. That’s the balkanisation of NI which runs totally contrary to the “Common Future” Basil talks about.

    Any more specific policies?

  • redstar2011

    Cant see Basils ideas cutting any ice in Nat community

    Lets be blunt- its got to be either neutrality or equality in all issues including flags.

    Those who hold the Union flag dear have to accept they are no longer a substantial majority and therefore both flags or none folks.

    Bails idea would have Derry council fly the Jack in a 90 % Nat city with no quid pro quo for its citizens

  • Red Lion

    redstar

    “”Cant see Basils ideas cutting any ice in Nat community””

    Sort of agree but it depends what is meant by nationalist community. If there are people of Catholic background who are in some way pro-union, then Basil’s policy will appeal to them, and others in the general, er ‘others’ camp.

    IE what he is saying is so much better than the shambles of a society we have at present and it is noticeable because he and the NI21’s are the only ones from a pro-union background going against the self- and society- harming grain of unionist dogma.

    He and the NI21’s are basically trying to flush out and motivate alternative reasonable types no matter what peg this society tries to put them on.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    IJP

    “The Councils idea solves nothing, and they know that – it takes us straight back to them and us. Tricolour on St Patrick’s Day on Nationalist Councils, Union Flag on Royal Birthdays on Unionist Councils. That’s the balkanisation of NI which runs totally contrary to the “Common Future” Basil talks about.”

    I agree entirely, it becomes quite a digital choice.

    I know I’ve shamelessly punted this a few times already and although not overly practical, I’d welcome constructive criticism of the ‘Three Fleg’ approach:

    http://amgobsmacked.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/stupid-idea-from-long-tradition-of.html

    Sorry Mick, I’ll stop it now…

  • Mc Slaggart

    Am Ghobsmacht

    “a digital choice.”

    Pick you county flag and stick with it is my advice.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Sadly, I think unionism has missed the chance to implement a designated days policy. Having pulled the rug out from under nationalists, and having made such a stink over flags on BCC, they’ve burned all the bridges out of this one.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    McSlaggart

    “Pick you county flag and stick with it is my advice.”

    Sorry man but I genuinely don’t know what you mean.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Am Ghobsmacht

    You are designing a flag?

    Each county has already got a flag.

    http://www.theflagshop.co.uk/tyrone-redwhite-flag-310-p.asp

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    McS

    You’ve lost me I’m afraid.

    County?

    If I’ve written ‘county’ instead of ‘country’ somewhere please tell me where so I can amend it.

  • Barnshee

    Simple

    Fly the flag of your choice at local council level- and send the bill for running the council to the Country represented

  • Cric

    Barnshee, send the rates and taxes collected to the country represented also… that would be re-partition then?

  • Cric,
    Or joint authority (Plan-B) that hasn’t gone away either ya know

  • pashaluk

    If I may address the points raised by shipbuilder above. One naval architect to another so to speak. I am not a party spokesperson, I am a member of NI21.

    I think I can safely say that NI21 is not seeking working class votes. Neither do we seek votes from those you see as being 2nd class/ middle class.

    As class is a label and not an entity, we are opposed to labels, especially labels that discriminate, suppress or oppress. Nothing in NI21 statement makes reference to any class of person, only you do that.

    We seek votes from those who are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the tribal politics of old, who want to cast off the ties that bind them to hopelessness of division and who aspire to better.

    NI21 is a progressive foreground party whose priorities include addressing issues such as inequality and social deprivation, The issues of unemployment, education and so on, as you have raised.

    NI21 initiative on the flags issue should be seen as a real and positive step to dealing with social inequality and deprivation. Any would-be foreign investor/ entrepreneur looking to invest in a factory here is bound to have viewed the televised scenes from 2013 Orange-Fest in Woodvale. Do you seriously think he is going to locate a factory in an area of the city festooned with the flags he can associate with the rioters he has seen on TV. How safe do you think he would feel that his factory would be, if the locals became annoyed about some issue in the future?

    Sadly the greatest obstacles to addressing the social deprivation of parts of North and East Belfast by way of investment and job creation in those areas, have been the actions on the streets by the people most effected. NI21 initiative is an important first step to addressing this problem and should be applauded by everyone not only as sensible but also as a courageous progressive move.

  • Charles_Gould

    pashaluk-a very good contribution

  • ayeYerMa

    Great to see that NI21 have their priorities in place… NOT.

    I would have thought that the tackling the glorification of proscribed terrorist organisations were a greater priority. Free speech after those conditions have been met.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Am Ghobsmacht

    ‘country’ ?? NI is a country,,,,just like

    Black Country
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_the_Black_Country

  • Comrade Stalin

    ayeYerMa and McSlaggart. A match made in heaven for a pair of broken records.

  • If I may address the points raised by shipbuilder above. One naval architect to another so to speak. I am not a party spokesperson, I am a member of NI21.?

  • JH

    “NI21 believes the Union Flag should be flown on designated days on Government Buildings.

    NI21 believes the Union Flag should be flown on main council buildings on designated days.”

    “Despite differing and legitimate political opinions and objectives, Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive pledge to publicly recognise the Union flag as it represents the current constitutional status of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland’s place within it.”

    So take flags down where they’re not wanted and put them up… where they’re not wanted.

    This problem needs a lasting solution. Now. It is doing irreparable damage to the economy and perception of this place. Politicians have all the time in the world to debate this, businesses don’t.

    So why create more conflict where there isn’t any? No doubt the party would recoil in horror at the inevitable backlash in Derry, Newry, Omagh when new flags spring up on their public buildings and the triumphant violent element of Belfast loyalism extend their demands. And lo we’ll enter 2015 with flags again on the agenda.

    Enough.

    These statements and the language that refers to the ‘flag of the Republic of Ireland’ several times without once recognising that it’s also the flag of the Irish population here show the naivety of the NI21 solution.

    Sorry, but this is just putting new lipstick on nasty, old-style NI politics. Move power so that you can force people to do what they’ve democratically expressed their desire not to do. Bring in oaths and bureaucracy to make sure those that dissent know their place.

    Huge opportunity wasted. Just like pretty much everyone else NI21 aim for the mode and miss. Policy devoid of content, designed by committee. Incapable of original thought.

  • Morpheus

    Let the local councils decide what their flag flying policy is. Problem solved.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I forced myself to listen to the drivel, as normal it was spin without coherent policy and like everything else they have spouted closer to a nationalist agenda than unionist, in fact beyond even Alliance. A few more South Down votes have gone and if I was in Lagan valley I would see Alliance as a better vote now. NI21 are a joke at best.

    As for flags, we have a designated days policy in Nationalist controlled Dungannon, and towns and villages are decorated for big parades and events, at present they are red and white for tyrone gaa. There was a spate of putting up flags at the time of the protests, these are now rags and an insult, it should not have happened, but it is the case they are faceless and anomymous, regulations only apply to those who obey the law.
    Hopefully the talks will come up with a sensible soloution, as for Jasils contribution, it might give them a laugh during a lunch break.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    JH

    What’s your opinion of the Three-flegs idea?

    I know it won’t sit well with fleggers or such like, but, everyone gets a slice of cake.

    The main downside being that ‘everyone gets a slice of cake’

    ” I got what I want but so did themuns, so I’m still not happy…”

  • David Crookes

    Must sadly agree with the summation of JH (11.16 am).

  • Barnshee

    B”arnshee, send the rates and taxes collected to the country represented also… that would be re-partition then?”

    Yep that sounds good -put the costs where they belong

  • JH

    Am G, what’s the three flags proposal? 2 + civic? 2 + provincial? 2 + (gasp) Ulster banner? I’m not acquainted with it!

    Personally though I feel that either we should decide flags are simply too divisive and work to remove them from public spaces or embrace all the colours of our city and hoist as many different flags as we can. Sure there are plenty of flagpoles around!

    And there’d be a great message in it. A city that overcame bitter disputes about whose culture should be exalted by exalting them all.

  • Congal Claen

    The debate needs to be widened to include other aspects of culture. At present only unionists are really affected by the Parades Commission. Only the Union Flag is affected by designated days. What we need is a culture commission. Other manifestations of culture that could then be included are…

    Gaelic/Ulster Scots signage – designated days perhaps or just use ‘neutral’ English?
    GAA – should it be given tax payers’ money?
    GAA in the workplace. Neutral working environment?
    Faith schools – should they be given tax payers’ money?

    Nationalists would be the main losers in any of the above. Perhaps it would even things up. Even Obama mentioned the separate schools in his Belfast speech. So, it’d be an easy message to promote.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Congal Claen

    GAA – should it be given tax payers’ money?
    GAA in the workplace. Neutral working environment?

    Very interesting questions.

    Firstly I would be happy for the GAA not to get tax payers money as long as its supporters did not have to pay tax.

    I know that Tyrone GAA have a clear policy on Gaa tops etc which could be used in all places of work for all types of symbols and tops.

  • JH

    Why on Earth do you assume any commission would decide the GAA should not be given tax payers’ money? They’re one of the biggest revenue generators for NI within the sports and leisure market.

    Going by recent events they seem to provide not only a higher but faster RoI than any other major sport in NI.

  • Red Lion

    Drumlins Rock, I don’t know if you are aligned to a party or not but in terms of the flags protests it is DUP/UUP who are the joke, but a very unfunny one.

    You also say this “”… like everything else they have spouted closer to a nationalist agenda than unionist, in fact beyond even Alliance.””

    Could you expand please? How is a party which has stated its preferred constitutional position as NI in the UK ‘closer to a nationalist agenda’, and what exactly does ‘beyond even Alliance actually mean??

  • shipbuilder

    pashaluk,

    I think you’ve misinterpreted my post if you see it as a criticism of NI21.
    Unfortunately ‘progressive’ seems to be seen as a dirty word here in NI, akin to ‘champagne socialism’ and the ‘liberal elite’. My point was that tackling poverty, unemployment, inequality and so on is actually at the very core of the meaning of ‘progressive’.
    The last line of my post was making a more general point or warning, not aimed at anyone in particular.
    If NI21 is truly ‘progressive’ as you claim, then it would be a radical departure from the current norm and one that I would welcome.

  • IJP

    JH

    Great post.

  • JH

    Thanks IJP

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    JH

    The 3-fleg proposal is simply ticking the boxes of the stated objectives of the 3 main groups:

    Unionists/British nationalists – Want Union flag over city hall 365

    Republicans/Irish nationalists – want tricolour accorded equal footing to be flown too

    Middle of the road/NI nationalists – want a new flag for NI and would like some middle ground instead of a digital choice between the flag of themuns and oorwans.

    So, fly all 3 flags for the same amount of time per year.

    Everyone gets what they want.

    It’ll also expose the hypocrisy of people as even theough they got what they want, they’ll be ragin’ that themuns got something too:

    Unionists/British Nationalists – “They’ve got their foreign fleg up and murdered our Ulster fleg!”

    Republicans/Irish nationalists – “Themuns have TWO flegs!”

    Middle of the road/NI nationalists – Well, nothing comes to mind just yet, but I’m sure we can think of something…

    —————

    Congael Claen

    Interesting questions

  • DC

    Why on Earth do you assume any commission would decide the GAA should not be given tax payers’ money? They’re one of the biggest revenue generators for NI within the sports and leisure market.

    I heard cliftonville wanted to play celtic at casement and the GAA said no, isn’t it the case that the GAA do F all for other sports / sporting sectors other than their own lot and members.

  • Congal Claen

    Hi JH,

    “Why on Earth do you assume any commission would decide the GAA should not be given tax payers’ money?”

    Because it’s not open to all tax payers.

  • DC

    So why create more conflict where there isn’t any? No doubt the party would recoil in horror at the inevitable backlash in Derry, Newry, Omagh when new flags spring up on their public buildings and the triumphant violent element of Belfast loyalism extend their demands. And lo we’ll enter 2015 with flags again on the agenda.

    Is this an argument against flying the union flag designated days across all councils in NI (apologies if it is not as i am about to go on rant…)?

    If you are saying designated days would cause conflict – how so? wasn’t it sold as a decent compromise for belfast and those vocal ones against it were frowned upon as bigoted. so on that basis, I mean why should there be any conflict?

    Why can’t nationalists take a 5% increase of union flag up from zero, nationalists expect loyalists to live comfortably and be content with a reduction of it by 95%, so surely nationalist-run councils can handle a wee 5 or so % increase of it without ‘conflict’ in order to accept the rights of the british minority, who wish to see the constitutional flag being rightly recognised officially within their own council area that still legally remains within the UK??

    You do realise it is possible to fly any other flag 365 days alongside it even the tricolour, but for legal reasons that might have to come down shortly after it going up due to it being the flag of another sovereign country not currently holding jurisdiction over NI. Hate to put it crudely, nationalists, you guys, you actually didn’t win the war up here. At some point in the future, a majority might decide that we should all join up with the ROI and that’s fair enough, no one – well no reasonable person – should stand in the way of the tricolour flying high post unification.

    ‘That’s the balkanisation of NI which runs totally contrary to the “Common Future” Basil talks about.’

    there is no reason why the northern irish identity cannot have its own flag produced and dropped into the mix and flown alongside those irish and british flags, maybe this could be the one to fly 365? unfortunately a ‘common’ flag couldn’t be thought up in relation to belfast city hall, the change makers failed to come up with such a flag. after the union flag came down a bare flagpole was on show. basil can’t be blamed for that!

    Coming back round to the GAA again, if it is such a money spinner why would you need to subsidise it using taxpayers money?

  • JH

    “Is this an argument against flying the union flag designated days across all councils in NI (apologies if it is not as i am about to go on rant…)?”

    It’s an argument against regional govt imposing its will on local govt when the latter has already expressed its wish.

    “Why can’t nationalists take a 5% increase of union flag up from zero, nationalists expect loyalists to live comfortably and be content with a reduction of it by 95%”

    Why should loyalists get special treatment? The Irish flag doesn’t fly on these councils either.

    “Hate to put it crudely, nationalists, you guys, you actually didn’t win the war up here.”

    I’m not a nationalist. From what you’re saying it sounds like you are. As for the war, it looks to me like pretty much everyone lost rather than one side having won, as in every other war.

    And we’re all going to continue to lose as long as this stuff goes on. I was leaving Royal Ave when the anti-anti-internment demo was kicking off having spent a week looking for places in the city to site my business. I gave the city centre places a miss after that.

    If all goes to plan in October I’ll be meeting with up to 50 VC’s from the EU, UK and Ireland and every one will want to know why we intend to keep the company here if they put their money into us, instead of moving it to Dublin or London. The reasons are getting thinner and harder to find. But sure what the hell, it’s only investment and jobs.

    FLAG.

  • JH

    “Coming back round to the GAA again, if it is such a money spinner why would you need to subsidise it using taxpayers money?”

    Higher return on investment if the asset or business is already performing well than if you’re trying to turn it around by throwing money at it.

    Am Ghobsmacht :

    Hadn’t heard of that before, thanks. Looks good to me. Frankly anything that gets a wide consensus and solves the problem without simply giving in to violent element gets my vote. Though, as you say, it’s hard to know how it would be taken by each side here!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    JH

    Must be a harsh state of affairs when your argument for a continued business presence starts off with examples of “why the people of Belfast aren’t nuts…”

    On the 3-flag idea, well, it’s food for thought so to speak.

    Or indeed food that is to be dumped in the bin.

    But it’s nice to hear that at least some one isn’t concerned more about what ‘themuns’ are getting as opposed to the satisfaction of stated goals regarding fleggery.