Review of flag policy is a ‘knee jerk reaction’

THE Equality Commission has been contacted following a decision by Lisburn City Council to review its policy on flying the Union Flag;.

The Union flag is currently only flown on designated days at the Island Civic Centre in Lisburn - the same policy adopted by Belfast City Council two weeks ago.

At Tuesday night’s meeting of the council, both UUP and DUP councillors voted to have the policy reviewed following a motion being put forward by UUP Councillor Jim Dillon.

17 councillors were for the motion and 9 against including members from Alliance, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Independent group.

SDLP Councillor Brian Heading has written to the Equality Commission to ask them to assess if they have a role to play in the decision taken by the council to change its designated-days policy.

Speaking after the decision was taken, Mr Heading said: “I am deeply concerned that this decision was not taken with a view to seeking the right solution for all the people of Lisburn, the vast majority of whom want a shared future where all are valued equally. The designated days option has, for the last 11 years, been a suitable compromise at Parliament Buildings in Stormont which showed respect for one identity without the symbolism of any dominance of one identity over another.

“This compromise has also held true in Lisburn for the last decade. I worry for parity of esteem, particularly for nationalist people, in Lisburn and consequently have decided to approach the Equality Commission to ask them to assess whether they have a role to play in this decision-making process.”

Independent Councillor Angela Nelson said the decision to review the flag was “immature” and described it as a “knee jerk reaction”.

“This is why nationalists never feel part of it”, Mrs Nelson said.

Councillor Brian Dornan - who is leader of the Alliance council group - said now is not the right time to be discussing the Council’s flag policy in light of the current context of illegal protests, intimidation and violence.

He said: “At a time in which we still have illegal protests, intimidation and violence happening on our streets, it is inappropriate for Lisburn Council to be discussing its flag policy.

“We have had a very difficult period over the past two weeks with numerous police officers injured. While any democratic body is entitled to review its policy, this is not the right time to do so. This issue was agreed six years ago and was not proving controversial, in fact it was actually helping community relations.”

Councillor Stephen Martin of the Alliance party said: “The DUP and UUP previously supported the policy of designated days, so I am annoyed that they have brought up this issue because it appears that their party leaders were embarrassed by their Lisburn Councillors’ support for designated days. In fact the UUP in their contribution to the meeting tonight tried without success to clarify their flip flopping on this issue.”

Lisburn City Council also voted to write a letter to Belfast City Council expressing its disgust and disappointment over recent events and that the issue was raised at “the mouth of Christmas”.