Alliance Belfast Council Group Leader Cllr Maire Hendron
In quite a large piece in Saturday’s News Letter, despite saying that they would rather be dealing with other things, the DUP and UUP made a great deal of noise about how many days the Union Flag is flown at Belfast City Hall.
They did correctly point out that Alliance holds the balance of power at Belfast Council, but Alliance will not be dictated to, rather we will vote on the wishes of our supporters, that the Union Flag should only fly on certain designated days each year.
This is best practice in other parts of the UK and the current policy at Stormont and other public buildings in Belfast. Unionists always say that they want Northern Ireland to maintain the same policies with the rest of the UK, but most Councils in Britain only fly their flags on certain designated days, so why do the DUP and UUP want something different here? How can Unionists say that they want Belfast to be a British city when they are not following procedure in other British cities?
Alliance recognises the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK, which is why we support the flying of the Union Flag at City Hall but in terms of good relations we believe it should only be flown on designated days. This was actually the recommendations of two equality reports that was commissioned by Belfast Council in 2002 and 2011. These reports were carried out by the Equality Commission, the results of which are more reliable than a petition that has been organised by the DUP and UUP.
Instead of discussing flags, I would rather be dealing with issues such as trying to reduce the costs of our Council services to ensure that savings can be passed on to rate payers. The language coming from Unionists is hardly going to contribute to better community relations , an issue that I would rather be spending my time on.
Considering the fact that the DUP and UUP have raised the issue of flags, I wonder if they will now look into the issue of the proliferation of flags in our streets, many of which are used to mark out territory between two sides of the community. Some of these flags end up looking very tattered, especially is they are left up for a long period. I do not think anybody can say they are respecting these flags by letting them become so frayed. Would these Parties also provide their thoughts on what we should about the illegal display of any paramilitary flags or symbol?
The flying of the Union flag on public buildings only on certain designated days has long been the policy of the Alliance Party. We will continue to vote to ensure that the Union flag does fly at Belfast City Hall on designated days.