Belfast Telegraph

Flags display action plan on way

By Noel McAdam
10 February 2005

A crackdown on controversial flag displays is being planned by the Government - but will not come in time for this year's marching season, it can be revealed today.

An official 'action plan' to tackle what the Northern Ireland Office terms 'agressive' displays of flags and emblems - along with murals and painted kerbstones - is now expected in the autumn.

It proposes local agreements - called protocols - involving police, councils, the Housing Executive and Roads Service, which could include:

removing flags from town centres and main roadways,

a complete ban on some flags, and

mixed and interface areas kept free of flags.

The strategy forms part of the Government's Shared Future policy - already three years in the melting pot - designed to improve community relations.

But today Ulster Unionist Assemblyman David McNarry warned that any attempt to remove the Union Flag from town centres or arterial routes could backfire and worsen relations.

He said: "This is a document compiled allegedly to improve relations but, if it is adopted, it will cause untold disharmony."

Following a briefing with Stormont Minister John Spellar, the Strangford MLA said: "I warned him if they proceed along these lines they were guilty of intent to cause tensions.

"These direct rule Ministers are totally out of touch with reality. They seem deliberate in downgrading the British identity, Protestant traditions and cultures."

An NIO spokesman said, however, they had no comment to make on Mr McNarry's claims.

The Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) said it was hoped the Shared Future policy will be finalised by Easter - and the 'action plan' then published in the autumn.

It comes against a backdrop of increasing fears about rising tensions ahead of this year's series of potential 'stand-offs', with politics in stalemate.

Research commissioned by OFMDFM shows there has been a proliferation of "so-called popular flags" left flying for much of the year.

The research is by the Insitute of Irish Studies at Queen's University.

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