Alliance Party MLA, Naomi Long, has responded to the scaremongering allegations from UUP MLA, Michael Copeland, that the proposals in the forthcoming Shared Future document will lead to the banning of all flags surrounding the annual Twelfth celebrations.
Naomi Long said:
“Michael Copeland seems intent in anointing himself as the self-proclaimed defender of ‘Protestant rights’. But it would help if he actually read the proposals contained within the draft Shared Future document properly.
“The document recognises that the are both appropriate and inappropriate uses of national flags. Any householder has a clear right to display any symbol on their private property. The question is then what should be done with the display on flags on public property, which technically requires planning permission.
“The law already makes it clear that it is illegal to flag paramilitary flags. I trust that this is not a practice that Mr Copeland which would wish to preserve.
“The Shared Future document does recognise that the flying of certain flags is a longstanding tradition in Northern Ireland at certain times of the year. Equally, it is also important to understand that the use of national flags in certain circumstances can create difficulties. There is not an absolute right to fly any flag in Northern Ireland anywhere and at any time.
“The consultation document clearly envisages action to address problems caused by the flying of flags in neutral or mixed areas, and where they are flown in a provocative manner, e.g. in and around interface areas.
“But equally, it does envisage the continued legitimate display of national flags around particular times and particular dates during the year. This is obviously a recognition of the traditional Twelfth celebrations.
“The document is seeking to put in place some guidelines to allow the statutory agencies, in consultation with local communities, to better regulate the flying of flags, in other words trying to address the problem of the flying of illegal paramilitary flags, and to ensure that national flags are flown in an appropriate, respectful, and time-limited manner to facilitate traditional celebrations.
“If people really respect their national flag, they should be willing to ensure that it does not become a rag flying from lampposts for most of the year.
“The UUP are making it clear that they wish to not only preserve but entrench the differences in Northern Ireland society, and then try to manage them through some form of ‘benign Apartheid’.
“Over the past few weeks, it is clear that the UUP have made a clear choice to define themselves as an extreme party competing with the DUP and have abandoned any notion of trying to build relationships across the centre.”