New Northern Ireland 'civic flag' considered as officials debate cultural future in delayed report

A report on flags and culture in Northern Ireland has raised the possibility of developing a new 'civic flag.'

The long-awaited Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) was set up five years ago in a bid to find consensus on a number of contentious issues.

Its findings were submitted to the First and deputy First Ministers last July.

The 168-page report, which has cost approximately £800,000, has already been criticised because it is not accompanied by a plan for implementing its recommendations.


It published its findings on Wednesday - including floating an idea for a neutral flag to be flown on official buildings.

The report does not make make any specific wider recommendations on the proposal for the new symbol- but said it agreed that flags supporting paramilitary organisations should not be flown.

The report states: "The commission also discussed the possibility of developing a new civic flag.

"This would not be a regional flag or a national flag, but rather a civic flag that would be designed to be representative of the diversity of our society, including our new communities.

"If this option were developed it could add to the wider debate around the official flying of flags on public buildings."

The report has made 44 recommendations but it is unlikely they will be enacted.

There are 15 commissioners, including seven from Northern Ireland's political parties and eight independent members, overseen by Professor Dominic Bryan.

On the issue of flying flags on lampposts or other street furniture, the report states: "The commission could not agree on whether changes should be made to current legislation in order to create a similar exemption to that which exists for election posters.

"Consequently, without any legislative changes, the commission is not in a position to recommend a code of practice that would accompany any such legislative change."

The report also said there had been "no meeting point" reached on the flying of flags at public buildings.


On the subject of bonfires, the commission recommended that the Executive recognise "that they are an important aspect of the culture, identity and tradition of communities and are therefore a legitimate form of celebration or commemoration, provided they are compliant with the law".

The report stated: "The commission recommends that the NI Executive also considers the development of a skills-based arts programme that harnesses the creativity and talents of those involved in the construction of bonfires."

The report finally recommended that an Executive action plan was produced on how to implement its recommendations, and a road map created to continue to explore the areas where challenges remained.

Northern Ireland's First and deputy First Minister have welcomed the publication of the FICT report.

First Minister Paul Givan said: "I welcome the publication of the FICT report following the significant work of the commission, who have considered a range of complex issues.

"It is right that the public have a chance to see the report and have their say, and today's publication will allow them to do that."

"Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "The FICT report examines a number of sensitive issues across our community.

"Addressing these issues is an important part of moving our shared society forward and I put on record my thanks to the commission for their efforts in undertaking this challenging work."

A working group led by junior ministers Gary Middleton and Declan Kearney, which was established to consider issues in relation to the report, will continue to meet.

Sinn Fein junior minister Declan Kearney said Mr Poots’ paper would not make it onto the Executive agenda Credit: PA

Speaking earlier, Sinn Féin's national chairman Mr Kearney said he believed that publishing the report without an implementation plan was a "mistake".

He added: "I would much rather see scaffolding established in order to ensure an orderly implementation of those proposals within the report that I believe are deliverable.

"There are then clearly challenges which remain, but if we had had a framework of next steps then we could tackle those.

"It is for the parties who oppose the good sense of an implementation plan to speak and answer for themselves."

Ms McLaughlin described the lack of agreement on implementing the report's recommendations as a "failure of politics". Credit: UTV

SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin said: "The First Ministers have had the FICT report for more than 16 months, it has been eight months since the Assembly voted to compel them to publish the document.

"Now, having received their recommendations, Michelle O'Neill and Paul Givan can't seem to agree on what to do with them.

"These issues go to the heart of divisions in our society and the failure to reconcile our people. It is far too important a challenge to allow this document to become an £800,000 ornament at Stormont Castle."

DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said: "The answer on these matters is mutual respect but it is hard to come by when Sinn Fein campaigns to remove every trace of Britishness from Northern Ireland.

"Such cultural and identity weaponisation will make solutions very difficult to come by as some want cultural domination rather than respect."