The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition report now available…

Commissions have a formula in Northern Ireland. They gather together the great and the good to analyse a problem in great detail. The commission spends several years and lots of cash engaging with all the key stakeholders, a final report is created and a series of recommendations are given, the report is discussed in-depth on the Nolan Show and Talkback before being ignored by the politicians. A few years go by and some crisis emerges. The solution proposed by politicians is to create a commission to look into the issue. Rinse and repeat.

You could wallpaper the walls of a Ballymena McMansion with all the various health, education, and cultural reports over the years and still have some extra to do the double garage. The key thing is to give the impression of doing something without actually ever doing anything. I am tempted to try this strategy in my personal life. Wife – ‘Can you put out the bins?’, me – ‘I am currently engaging a commission with the key stakeholders to identify the various issues around this situation with a view to establishing best practice going forward…’.

It is very easy to be cynical around the issue, as Alex Kane and I were this morning. But…

Yes, there is a but. Prof Dominic Bryan from Queen’s, who oversaw the commission, gave a brilliant defence of it on Radio Ulster this morning. The poor sod not only had to do Good Morning Ulster but also a full hour of the Nolan Show. I can only assume he is now lying down in a darkened room somewhere. It was a bit unrealistic to expect one group to solve all the thorny issues that have plagued us for decades.

I suggest you take time to have a read of the report. It is 168 pages but it does seem quite readable. Here is the section on a recommended code of practice around the flags issue.

The Commission has developed a series of values, principles and guidelines in relation to the positive promotion
of identity, culture and tradition. Respect is a key underpinning value and principle. Cultural events and activities
should be respected and respectful. In relation to flags, respect covers a number of areas:
 Respect for the flag
 Respect for the community
 Respect for the event
Respect for the flag:
Many flags, when flown over a long period become tattered, worn and soiled. Therefore, flags should be taken
down before this happens, as a mark of respect to the nations, organisations or cultural bodies that the flag
represents. The principle of respect also means that a national flag, or any other flag, should never be used for
the purposes of provocation, to threaten people or to mark territory and the flags of other nations should also be
granted respect. No national flag should ever be defiled or burnt.
Respect for the community:
Flags should never be used to define a neighbourhood or a community as being of one tradition or another. Flags
should also never be used as a means to intimidate any community. When flags are being used to accompany a
celebratory or commemorative event, they should be used for that purpose and therefore should be time bound
and related to the location where the event is being held.
Respect for the Event
Authority is given for the flying of flags out of respect for the particular historical or political event. It is not to be
used as general permission to put flags up in all places and over long periods of time. The respectful use of flags
at such events increases the status of the event and flags should be linked to the time and place of events.
Flags, particularly national flags, need to be treated with respect. This means among other things that:
 Flags should never be flown in a worn or damaged condition, or when soiled. To do so is to show disrespect
for the nations, organisations or cultural bodies they represent.
 For displays of flags to remain representative of significant commemorations and celebrations it is
important that displays are kept close to the dates of those events.
 Flags should not be placed on lamp posts on or near an individual property or place of worship in any way
that could be considered intimidatory or threatening.
 Places where public services are delivered for example schools, hospitals, health centres, leisure centres and
libraries should be open, shared, accessible and welcoming to all and therefore should be places around
which flags are not flown.
 Flags should not be placed in positions that might be reasonably construed as antagonistic such as
In order to prevent or mitigate conflict the utmost courtesy must be shown to those who might feel
uncomfortable with the flag display. Residents of areas where flags are displayed can reasonably expect to know
who is putting the flags up and how long they will be displayed. It is good practice to find a way of
communicating to people when the flags are being put up and for how long.
Health & Safety
The placing of flags on lampposts must not endanger the safety of road users. Flags must not be placed on
telegraph poles or electricity pylons under any circumstances


The lack of any action just further shows us how utterly useless Stormont is at making decisions. There is zero goodwill between SF and the DUP at the moment. They could not agree whether to have Bourbon Creams or Custard Creams for the tea break never mind agreeing on contentious issues like flags and bonfires.

The obvious next step is to convene a citizens assembly to discuss the various issues and suggestions in the report and decide on the best route forward. Of course, the politicians can then just ignore the proposals of the citizen’s assembly but my feeling is Stormont is not long for this world; eventually, it will implode under its own ineptitude. The Secretary of State could instead agree to implement the suggestions.

Or more likely, commissions are like buses. There will be another one along in a few years and we will repeat the whole thing all over again, and again, and again…