Do we really need another debate about flags?

Tonight our esteemed elected representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly are due to debate driving licences.

Good news – I hear you cry – at last some action may be taken to address the disparity in the cost of driving licences between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Last week there was much consternation when it was revealed that learner drivers in Northern Ireland pay nearly twice the price for a provisional licence compared to elsewhere in the UK – £62.50 versus £34. To make matters worse when it comes to renewing a full driving licence it costs £14 in Britain and £30 in Northern Ireland.

So fair play to our MLAs in  taking time from their busy schedules to debate this important issue.

But wait…

Stormont we have a problem.

The motion put forward by DUP’s Pam Cameron, Peter Weir, Lord Morrow and Ian McCrea  actually reads:

“That this Assembly recognises that the principle of consent is central to our constitutional arrangements, whereby there will be no change to the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom unless and until there is a clear majority voting for such change; notes that the SDLP endorsed these principles and constitutional arrangements; expresses its concern at the decision by the Minister of the Environment to exclude the Union Flag from UK Driving Licences issued in Northern Ireland; considers this to be contrary to the constitutional settlement and an unnecessary, politically motivated deviation from a UK wide scheme that has denied Northern Ireland citizens their right to display the national flag on Government documents often used for identification; and calls on the Minister to reverse this decision.”

So basically… flegs.

Flag

 

On December 30th it was announced by the British Government that “British motorists will be able to fly the flag with pride in the new year thanks to government plans to display the Union Flag on driving licences”

Transport Minister Claire Perry said: “People in this country rightly take pride in our national flag which is why I am delighted it will now be displayed on British driving licences. Celebrating Britain strengthens our sense of national identity and our unity. I will feel proud to carry my new licence and I hope others will too.”

However days later it was announced that Northern Ireland would be excluded from the policy because of “particular sensitivities surrounding [national] symbols” in the province.

Cue outrage!

Henry Reilly
Henry Reilly

The venerable UKIP councillor Henry Reilly was particularly upset claiming it would make it more difficult when trying to hire a car overseas. “This decision is insulting to the vast majority of Northern Irish residents who are happy to live in UK and relaxed about UK symbols of statehood being on official UK documents,” he added.

Nigel Dodds
Nigel Dodds

The DUP have been upset since the scheme was first mooted in 2012 and it was suggested that Northern Ireland would be excluded . Speaking at the time North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said “I would remind Mr Cameron that he came to Northern Ireland a number of times and proclaimed himself to be a unionist … he should apply the same policy right across the UK,” he said.

Basil McCrea
Basil McCrea

Speaking ahead of tonight’s debate Basil McCrea asks “are the DUP suggesting that any “deviation from UK wide schemes'” is a threat to current constitutional arrangements and by that logic would they endorse legislation that currently exists in England, Scotland and Wales but not here in Northern Ireland? For example water charges, equal marriage, blood donation, same sex adoption – is legislation necessary in those areas to properly reflect their ‘Britishness’?”

The debate itself is due to kick off tonight at 7.45 and you can watch it live here.

I wouldn’t bother though as a petition of concern has already been tabled by Sinn Fein and the SDLP so the whole thing is a total waste of time.

So what’s the point?

You wouldn’t half know that there’s a general election in a few months.

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