Union Flag (Executive Buildings)

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 6th June 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

The Business Committee decided that two hours should be allocated for this debate. Given the substantial interest that has been shown and the number of Members wanting to speak, I have had to limit the times for this debate and for the debate this afternoon. There will be 15 minutes for the moving of the motion and for winding up. If a Minister wishes to respond at the end of either debate, he or she too will have 15 minutes. All other Members will have just five minutes so that as many as possible may be facilitated.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I beg to move the following motion:

That this Assembly directs that the Union flag shall be flown on Executive buildings in Northern Ireland on all designated days, in keeping with the arrangements for other parts of the United Kingdom and, additionally, on Parliament Buildings on all sitting days.

Photo of Mr John Tierney Mr John Tierney Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr Speaker, when you refer to a Minister who can speak for 15 minutes at the end of the debate, do you mean a Minister representing the Executive? Or is it any Minister?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

It is only a Minister who is responding on behalf of the Executive. It would be normal practice that if the Executive wished to respond — and they do not have to do so, as all matters may not be within their remit — a Minister would make a winding-up speech immediately before that of the mover, and he or she would have 15 minutes. That would be the case on this occasion. I have no indication, at present, that a Minister will respond in this debate.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

The Member need not be worried because I understand no Ministers will be replying, as they are not in a position to speak for a united Executive on this issue.

When I took my seat for the first time in this Chamber I never thought I would be here, 30 years later, having to discuss such a motion. The fact that this motion is necessary today proves that concession after concession has been given to the pan-Nationalist front, and the names of their representatives are on the Petition of Concern. We know who they are and we know that their aim and common policy is to divest this part of the United Kingdom of all aspects of Britishness.

In the main hall of this building there are four rings just outside the entrance to the Members’ dining room. Two flags used to hang there — the flag of our nation and the standard of Northern Ireland. They were taken away. I did my best to find out who did it. No one has ever owned up to why they were taken away. Having divested the inside of the building of its flags the pan-Nationalist front are going to try and divest the outside of the building also. This is a growing matter which will not go away.

We remember that even in the forum we had difficulty with the flag. Of course that difficulty came from Mr McGuinness. We had to battle to get the flag put up even inside the forum building.

Others on the periphery of the pan-Nationalist front are prepared to agree on this issue. We will see today who is in agreement and who is not.

The petition can prevent the motion, if it is passed, from having any power. That is the veto that has been handed to those who want to carry out the Republican agenda in this House. It will always be put into use to maintain the Executive and those who believe that the way forward for Northern Ireland is the Republican way, which is set forth in the Agreement. That veto will continue.

The national flag flies upon the Parliament of every democratic country in the world. It also flies on the regional Parliaments, and there is evidently no objection to that. However, in Northern Ireland we find elements who are not prepared to allow the wishes of the majority to be the guiding factor. This flag issue shows the total and absolute falsehood and hypocrisy of the SDLP, Sinn Féin and their allies. They say they believe in the principle of consent, and in the consent of the majority of the people. The majority of the people in this country want this flag to fly. The majority of the people in this country have a right to have their national flag flying. It flies by decree of the Queen, who directs that this should be done. There are people here that strike not only at the flag but also at the sovereign and anything that is British. We have an anti-British campaign that wants to ensure that the national flag will not fly.

The flag also flies, as I pointed out to the Prime Minister the last time I saw him, on all sitting days of the national Parliament. It used to fly on this Building on sitting days, but now we have the first step — it will fly only on those sitting days which coincide with the named days. So we already have a dilution of the flying of the flag. Let us return to where we should never have left. Our flag, the flag of this nation, should fly on all sitting days of this Assembly. This is a regional Government of part of the United Kingdom, and this Assembly is the regional Assembly. Therefore the flag of the United Kingdom should be flown. It is puerile to argue that another flag should be placed alongside it.

The South of Ireland did not need to have any argument about this matter. When the border was drawn, 10% of the people were Protestant and, in the majority, Unionist, but they have been almost eliminated. Today only 2·5% of the population of the South are Protestant. As a result, by the elimination of the people, they eliminated any bother about which flag should fly. I did not hear from the parties opposite a loud cry: "Let both flags fly over Dublin castle". I did not hear that cry, because it is the right of the minority. Well, they have very little minority left. Perhaps when all the minority has gone they will consider that matter.

It is puerile for Members to say: "Oh, if you fly both flags, we will let you fly them". Mr McGuinness, who is absent today, and the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety do not run Northern Ireland. He may run an office in Northern Ireland, but he will not dictate to the people of Northern Ireland what the national flag is. It is not the tricolour. The majority of the people of Northern Ireland — [Interruption]

Evidently, the First Minister is going to join them. The majority of the people of Northern Ireland will not have it. It is a very dangerous thing to advocate the removal of the National flag because it is an issue that goes to the very heart of people’s faith and heritage. We are not in the Irish Republic yet.

Photo of Mr Roger Hutchinson Mr Roger Hutchinson DUP 10:45 am, 6th June 2000

Does the Member agree that this is not only a matter of the flying of the Union flag but of our Britishness and everything in our culture that is British and Orange? The SDLP Members in particular, after the release of their internal document, seem to have gone from a paler shade of green to the darkest shade of green ever.

This has been portrayed by their Member from East Antrim who, on every occasion, has taken the opportunity to condemn the RUC and to tell us that the RUC turns a blind eye to the attacks on the minority community in Larne. I condemn any attack on anyone, but I also condemn the lies told about the RUC turning a blind eye to anyone being attacked in Larne, or anywhere else. I ask the Member to bring forward any evidence he may have. I ask him to speak up or shut up.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. I fail to see the relevance of this particular attack on another Member to the motion that is before the House. If the Member wishes to respond, since he has been particularly spoken of, he will have that right. Please continue, Dr Paisley.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I am not responsible for what people say when I give way, but I think that my Friend made a fair point. When we are speaking about the Republican agenda, I welcome the fact that today in another place, where I hope to be very shortly, Her Majesty’s Opposition is going to take the attitude that the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill should not get a second reading. We are glad, because things are happening in this country and someone must put the brakes on the Republican agenda and say "So far and no further".

Why are these people offended about the Union flag? When they take their pay, are they offended about the Queen’s head on the coin, and do they say "No"? We used to have an old slogan here — although it does not match with the present coinage — that they loved the half-crown but they did not like the Crown. It is absolute hypocrisy. Do they want two sorts of money?

There was a time when they did have two sorts of money. There was a hen on some coins. It was wonderful — they were loyal to a hen. They can have their choice of animals, but as far as this nation is concerned there is one coinage — and I am glad that the Euro is doing so badly — and, not only that, there is one flag. That is the flag of this United Kingdom.

I could say many other things, but I should remark on the statement by the press that the building in which the Secretary of State holds office is owned by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. The Minister’s directive, which was not even a legal directive, caused the Secretary of State not to have a flag flying on his building. He is the man that the Executive asked to be the future adjudicator on this matter. What trust could we have in the Secretary of State to fly the Union flag? None whatsoever.

He was very careful to say, in the House of Commons, that the flag will fly while he is around. However, he is not going to be around. We know that the talk in Westminster is that the Prime Minister wants him back, as quickly as he can, to prepare for the election. When he goes, who is going to hold the Government to that pledge?

It is regrettable that we have to discuss this matter. It is an insult to our flag to be told that we have to have the flag of another nation flying beside it, a nation whose Foreign Minister tells us that there is too much Britishness in Northern Ireland and that we have to remove it. He may rub out some things on documents — his colleagues are very good at that, hence all the investigations into their financial integrity — but he will not be rubbing out the loyalty of the people to the flag of this nation and the loyalty of the people to their roots.

We are British and proud of it, and we will fly the Union flag irrespective of what motions may be put down and what action may be taken by the pan-Nationalist front. We will not be bowing the knee to the pan-Nationalist front, and we are not going to be subjected to bare flagpoles just because IRA/Sinn Féin says we cannot fly the Union Jack. They have fired on the flag, they have bombed it, and they have tried to destroy it, but it will still fly in spite of them all.

Photo of Dermot Nesbitt Dermot Nesbitt UUP

I intend to give a measured response rather than a bombastic response.

This motion is about rights. It is about equality. It is about what the Human Rights Commission has to do to subscribe to international standards and practices that apply elsewhere. Indeed, I contend that it is not for the Assembly to decide whether or not a flag should fly. It could even be reasonably well argued that it is not for the London Government to have discretion over whether or not this flag should fly. There are international standards that apply in the flying of the flag and the recognition of the constitution, and which all, I repeat all, Mr Speaker, should subscribe to. That is why I say that this motion is about rights.

Some say in this debate that this is a concession which we, as Unionists, seek. Some say that it is a demand or a want. Indeed, some say — and here I look at the DUP — that somehow this is a cultural issue, as did Conor Murphy. This is not cultural.

A Member:

Who said that?

Photo of Dermot Nesbitt Dermot Nesbitt UUP

Who said that? I read the article in Saturday’s ‘News Letter’ where Dr Paisley wrote about the cultural rights of the British. See Mervyn Parley for the quotation.

This is not a concession. It is not cultural. It is simply one thing: it is to do with the constitutional status of the region of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. That is what it is. In other words, when we deal with rights and equality — and this is the fundamental principle accepted by all throughout the democratic world — when we deal with parity, equality, identity, ethos, aspirations, they are all to be subscribed to in equal terms within the context of the state already being defined and the constitution already being recognised. There is nothing to say about joint sovereignty, condominium or the flying of two flags side by side, one of a nation state that is a neighbour and one that is ours. That is what this is clearly about. The Human Rights Commission[Interruption]

I am trying to support what you are saying. I wish the DUP would keep quiet. Let us take the Human Rights Commission, this august body that is meant to define the rights that we all have to subscribe to.

The commission asks why we need a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. It goes on to say that a Bill of Rights is needed for Northern Ireland because we have communal lines with clearly identifiable majority and minority communities — that is our problem. What rights does the commission say it must address? Remember that this is the Human Rights Commission, not I. It talks of four things: equality, education, language and communal cultural rights. I agree with all of those, since they are the rights to be addressed given the definition of the state.

The commission goes on to ask where one can find such cultural rights to be identified. It says that they can be found in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities — namely, the Council of Europe, the home for all international standards accepted by all. That is what the Human Rights Commission says. What does that framework convention say? Let us be unambiguous. It supports rights and equality as defined by international consensus — not merely by a small-scale Assembly in a region of the United Kingdom. Let me make it clear that we are subject to international consensus. It also means cultural, linguistic, educational and religious rights of equality. Article 20 of the framework convention is unambiguously clear in stating — and I end on this point — that there is a fundamental principle upon which all other rights are to be based, and it is something that is supported by every international expert in human rights. Majorities and minorities should respect national law and the constitution, which means respecting the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as demonstrated by the flag.

Photo of Sean Farren Sean Farren Social Democratic and Labour Party 11:00 am, 6th June 2000

The heat under Members’ collars, clerical and lay, demonstrates the depth of feeling already generated on this, as we might expect, contentious issue. Fortunately, we seem to be leaving the fields of conflict which have scarred the face of our countryside and, worse, have seen immense tragedy in our communities. It seems the flags which led people onto those fields of conflict remain a cause of dissension. If we do not display the maturity and sense of responsibility necessary to remove this dissension, the very divisions that the Good Friday Agreement intended to remove will persist and fester.

I wish to reflect for a moment on the significance of flags in order to help our deliberations in as positive a way as possible. For me, one flag, the Irish tricolour, represents in its green, white and orange colours a very noble aspiration — that of peace, reconciliation and unity through agreement between the main political traditions of this island. However, it is because of what that flag represents that I deplore, and have always deplored, its staining with the blood of people from either tradition. I have deplored and condemned — and my party has done likewise — the activities of those who, in the name of the aspiration that that flag represents, have caused that blood to be spilt. I equally deplore abuses of the flag, evident when it is used to antagonise others, most especially to antagonise those with whom the peace, reconciliation, agreement and unity it represents are intended to be achieved.

As to the Union flag, I must admit that it evokes no warmth in me at all, but as the tricolour evokes in me very positive sentiments, I recognise that the Union flag must evoke positive feelings in those on the other side of the Chamber. However, I have witnessed so many incidents and have learnt of many others where it has been used to antagonise, to taunt, and to express a sense of dominance over those in the community that I and my Colleagues represent. I cannot but question the motives of those who are speaking in favour of its display here today. Such abuses are very far from the mere expression of the status of Northern Ireland, as many protesting in favour of its display claim. Indeed, many making this claim are often to be found among those responsible for its misuse.

As a Minister I have not issued instructions regarding the display of the Union flag, or of any other flag, at my Department’s buildings. Current practice will therefore persist until we arrive at an agreed common position.

As the Good Friday Agreement urges, I fully support the recommendation that we approach this issue with sensitivity and seek to develop a common understanding and code of conduct for the display of flags and emblems by our new institutions. In doing so I believe that we should strive to arrive at a situation where we have an agreed set of common emblems and flags to represent the institutions agreed to in the Good Friday Agreement. For these reasons members of my party and others have signed a Petition of Concern to have this issue addressed by the Assembly to enable us to pursue agreement on this very contentious matter. In doing so, I look forward to the assistance that the Human Rights Commission and others may want to afford us as we seek such agreement.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

To avoid confusion, may I draw attention to the fact that in a time-limited debate, intervention times come out of the time allocated to Members.

Photo of Mary Nelis Mary Nelis Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. This motion coming from the DUP is not about flags. It is not even about respect for or allegiance to a flag. I think that the Member who moved the motion spoke about running. In fact, the motion is about a party running for its life in advance of progress and change — change that recognises that the only way forward for these six counties of this little island is, in the words of the Good Friday Agreement,

"to affirm our commitment to mutual respect, civil rights and religious liberties."

Now, I know that it is very difficult for the majority of those elected to the Assembly to affirm respect for a party which has publicly threatened to wreck the Assembly and to make it unworkable, a party whose members have consistently used, or should I say abused, their position as elected representatives to deny everyone else their right to respect, to civil rights and even to religious liberty. [Laughter]

They can laugh, but the history of their party is steeped in it.

Photo of Mary Nelis Mary Nelis Sinn Féin

I do not propose to go into the history of the DUP or its party leader whose rise to fame we all know about. His career and the careers of his party members were carved out by haranguing and abusing those who disagreed with them. As well as the British Queen’s — [Interruption] Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. The Member will resume her seat. I intervene at this point, as I have done previously, to direct that Members who stray off the motion and address the question of another Member would be advised not to do so.

Photo of Mr Pat McNamee Mr Pat McNamee Sinn Féin

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am unable to hear my Colleague even though I am sitting beside her.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

That is why I have called for order. Please continue, Mrs Nelis.

Photo of Mary Nelis Mary Nelis Sinn Féin

We have seen this party haranguing church leaders. They were at it again last night, haranguing President Mary McAleese and the newly elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Dr Trevor Morrow. Everything they do or say is about division, whether it be about flying flags or rotating Ministers. That is all they are capable of — promoting sectarianism and fomenting civil strife. Do not let this motion fool anyone. Even if the Reverend party leader wraps himself in the Union Jack and flies it from the top of Westminster, it is not going to stop the change which the Good Friday Agreement and 84% of the people of this island, North and South, clearly spelt out. It is called equality. Do they know what that means? Well, I will tell them, for they do not know. It means that the flag I recognise and uphold, which represents my political allegiance on this island of Ireland and which, in its origins, symbolises the unity of orange and green traditions, is entitled to be flown alongside the Union Jack on all buildings. That is called parity of esteem and it means that where British symbols are used in public life, equivalent Irish symbols must be given equal prominence.

All who signed up to the Good Friday Agreement acknowledge the need for sensitivity in the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes, and the need to use symbols and emblems in a manner which promotes mutual respect and human rights, rather than division. In circumstances where it is not possible to fly both flags, none should be flown. It is the right of all of the people on this island that we create and uphold the principle of an equal or neutral working environment central to parity of esteem but also — and I remind the proposer of this motion — enshrined in law.

This issue is not about flags. This issue, and the one that we should be debating, are whether we can, through the unique formula which is the Good Friday Agreement, involve ourselves in the political process which will address the issues of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity. We are back again in this Assembly, and we have another chance to further develop the peace process. This motion is what we have come to expect. [Interruption]

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. If Members keep interrupting, and I have to intervene on points of order, the time does not come out of the Member’s time — it merely prolongs it.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea DUP

The clock shows 5.16.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I am aware of what the clock shows. If the Member had been listening he would have appreciated what I was saying, which was that when Members require the Speaker to intervene on a point of order, that does not come out of the Member’s time.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea DUP

The clock has stopped.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Yes, of course the clock has stopped. It is meant to stop. The clock has stopped because the Speaker was intervening at that point. It did not stop when the Speaker intervened at the earlier point, and he intervened because of the kerfuffle being caused in that Member’s corner.

I ask Mrs Nelis to bring her remarks to a close.

Photo of Mary Nelis Mary Nelis Sinn Féin

A Chathaoirligh, this motion is what we have come to expect from the "No, nay, never, up-the-pole" party. We have more important matters to deal with in this Assembly so let us get on with it. I oppose the motion.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP 11:15 am, 6th June 2000

In her concluding remarks Mrs Nelis used the expression "up the pole". Is that parliamentary language?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

It appears to be relevant to flags, which is the subject of the motion.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

Whilst I do not agree with the Republicans in their attitude to the flying of flags in Northern Ireland, my party rejects the way in which today’s motion seeks to further politicise the use of the Union flag. That is why we sought to bring forward a reasoned amendment which would have removed the misuse of the Union flag on every sitting day, while leaving the current practice for Government buildings on designated flag days. That is also why we suggested and signed the Petition of Concern. It was not a pan-Nationalist front, Mr Wilson.

There are a number of reasons why people fly flags. A flag can be used as an expression of identity. In that context, if I wish to fly one flag and my neighbour wishes to fly a different flag on her property, that is the right of each of us, subject only to our keeping the peace. If one of my neighbours wishes to put up a Union flag for the Queen’s birthday, another wishes to fly St Patrick’s cross on 17 March, and I want to put up a red dragon every time there is a rugby match in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, that is our right. We should have — [Interruption] Was that a point of order?

Photo of Dermot Nesbitt Dermot Nesbitt UUP

Point of information, Mr Speaker.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

No. I am not giving way for anybody. I have only five minutes.

With the exception of the emblems of illegal organisations, we each should tolerate the other, and, in turn, we should have our wishes tolerated. A flag can be flown also as a symbol of sovereignty. That is the difference between a private house, an Orange hall, or a GAA club, and a Government building. A flag on a Government building can only be a statement of sovereignty. That is why I cannot see any possibility of the tricolour’s being flown alongside the Union flag on any Government building, because it does not fit with the principle of consent, and it seems to me the logic of the Sinn Féin position is that the Union flag should now fly over Rathgael House in Bangor in perpetuity. If they wish the tricolour to fly alongside the Union flag as a recognition of one section of this community, then should there be any possible constitutional change, they must accept that the Union flag should fly alongside the tricolour forever as a recognition of the identity of another section of the community.

The third reason for flying flags in Northern Ireland is possibly the most important, and that is to get one over on the "other side". That is the mentality that nails flags up every available telegraph pole. That is done to stake out territory and tell people they are not welcome. The only thing that can be said in its favour is that, by and large, Republicans do not fly their flag upside down.

Today’s motion represents a test of the commitment of the different parties to the mutual respect and tolerance I spoke of — the respect and tolerance which is enshrined in the agreement. I believe that the UUP and the PUP should actually oppose the provocative use of their national flag, the Union flag. While the proposal to fly the Union flag on this building on every sitting day is not quite the same as waving it in the streets, or nailing it up telegraph poles, it seems to me that the effect is the same. Possibly the intent is the same. It is to seek forcibly to remind those who are offended by it that they are in a minority. It is to tell them they are not welcome.

Many Unionists, indeed many supporters of my party, view the Union flag, not as something with which to taunt people, which seems to be the aim of many people in this Chamber, but as a dignified statement of their beliefs and values. As someone who is not a Unionist but who lost an uncle in the fight against fascism sixty years ago, I know exactly how deep those feelings run, and how sincere they can be. Those people have a right to see their symbols treated with respect by everybody, not treated as cheap political rags and misused by some.

Of course, sovereignty in the context in which we now live is neither absolute nor indivisible. Alliance recognises that Northern Ireland is part of a decentralising British Isles. To adopt Mrs Thatcher’s famous dictum, it is actually now no longer possible to be exactly as British as those in Finchley, whether you live in Fishguard, Finvoy or Fortwilliam, and, indeed, the way the European Union is now evolving into a federal Europe, it is possible that you will soon be almost as British whether you live in Frankfurt or Fuengirola.

Alliance wishes to see the development of common shared symbols which can unite, not divide, our people. In the absence of any agreement on new symbols, maintenance of the status quo is the best approach at this time. We reject the suggestions that the Union flag and the tricolour should be flown together. We see this as the route to an apartheid society, one which says that there are two sections which are equal, and they — like George Orwell’s pigs — are rather more equal than every other section.

We want to build a society that is united but diverse. We need shared common symbols. The Assembly’s flax plant is perhaps the first example. The European flag should also be considered since it can be seen as a focus of unity rather than division. In the absence of any agreement on a way forward, we should maintain the status quo and reject the motion.

Photo of Mr Norman Boyd Mr Norman Boyd NIUP

I support the motion. It is scandalous that Sinn Féin/IRA Ministers refuse to fly the Union flag over Government buildings. I have here a list of days on which the Union flag must be flown under well-established practices. The Sinn Féin Ministers’ actions are deliberately provocative and appalling. This is an attack on Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom. These so-called Ministers have acted beyond their authority and must be condemned utterly by the House. They have insulted the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland. At a time of deep crisis for the National Health Service and education, the Sinn Féin Ministers are more interested in cheap political stunts such as preventing the flying of our country’s flag than in the wellbeing of the people of Northern Ireland. Recently, someone in need of a hospital operation had to make way for another so-called kneecapping victim. The Sinn Féin Health, Social Services and Public Safety Minister is strangely silent on that issue.

The fact that Sinn Féin Ministers in this fundamentally flawed Executive can refuse to fly our country’s flag demonstrates that the Belfast Agreement offers nothing to Unionists, in spite of the utterances of David Trimble and some UUP Members that it copper-fastens the Union. If the prevention of the flying of the flag on Castle Buildings — a Government building — represents copper-fastening the Union, what would the UUP see as weakening the Union? I have here a statement issued by the Ulster Unionist Party on 22 May 2000:

"Thanks to our negotiating team, only the Union flag will be flown from Government buildings, and the proud name of the RUC will be preserved … Unlike our opponents, who talk a lot but never deliver, we actually managed to negotiate significant and tangible concessions from the Government."

That was written by David Trimble. I ask him if the flying of the Union flag is a concession.

The SDLP says that there should be mutual respect. We have had 30 years of bombs and bullets. Where was the mutual respect for the Unionist community in that? We hear from Nationalists about Union flags and red, white and blue kerbstones. What about Republican triumphalism on the Garvaghy Road, the Ormeau Road and many other areas where we see tricolours and green, white and gold kerbstones? The Government’s neutrality has created the ludicrous situation where if Nationalists object to the Union flag, under the Belfast Agreement it can no longer be flown on Government buildings.

The Alliance Party is now part of the pan-Nationalist front which today has signed a petition to prevent us from voting that the Union flag must be flown. The Union flag is flown permanently at Westminster, except during a royal visit when the royal standard is flown. It is flown permanently on the building used by the Welsh Assembly. It is also flown on occasion on the Scottish Parliament’s buildings and Government offices.

The Union flag, and only the Union flag, should be flown permanently on Parliament Buildings and on all Government buildings to bring us in line with the rest of the United Kingdom. It is scandalous for a Northern Ireland Office spokesman to say that this is a matter for the parties to agree among themselves. That attitude is totally unacceptable. I call for a full investigation by the House into the comments made by faceless civil servants in the Northern Ireland Office. They must be taken to task over that unacceptable attitude.

Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom, yet our British culture and identity continue to be attacked. The list is endless: parades, the oath of allegiance, the RUC, portraits of Her Majesty. Sinn Féin/IRA even blocked the Duchess of Abercorn from visiting St Mary’s Primary School in Pomeroy, County Tyrone to promote a cross-community writing competition.

The actions of Sinn Féin/IRA Ministers have been grossly offensive to all Unionists, whether they voted "Yes" or "No". They confirm that the Belfast Agreement is fundamentally flawed. It is a charter of deceit, and those who have been deceived are the misguided pro-Agreement Unionists who foolishly trusted the Belfast Agreement. They thought the agreement would safeguard their British identity in the face of aggressive Irish Republicanism, which is determined to impose Irishness on British people.

This debate is about more than flags. It goes to the heart of the Belfast Agreement. That agreement was sold to Unionist and Nationalist voters with entirely different arguments. For Unionists, the agreement was supposed to secure their British citizenship after thirty years of Republican terrorism. For Nationalists, it was to create a transitional arrangement in which Unionism gave ground and of which a united Ireland would be the inevitable outcome.

The removal of the Union flag from Government buildings by Sinn Féin/IRA is clear evidence of the Republican movement’s hatred of all things British. Just when we are commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of Dunkirk, where many lives were lost for freedom and democracy, and when, in a few weeks, on 1 July, we will remembering those brave Ulstermen who lost their lives at the Battle of the Somme fighting under the Union flag, Sinn Féin/IRA are insulting their memories and what they died for. [Interruption]

Photo of Mr Norman Boyd Mr Norman Boyd NIUP

Despite these ongoing attacks by the pan-Nationalist front on British culture and identity, I call on all Unionists to fly the Union flag on their homes as a clear statement of British identity.

Photo of Mr Fraser Agnew Mr Fraser Agnew UUAP

The symbolic nature of flags can be traced back to ancient times. They have been used to lead armies to victory, and to crown man’s greatest achievements — whether landing on the moon or conquering a mountain peak. They have been used to claim ownership of vast territories and, of course, they have been used in Northern Ireland, as has already been mentioned, to mark out territory.

Also, the Romans used flags to identify their legions on the battlefield. There has been much talk recently about the symbols of the RUC, but flags, particularly the Union flag, can stir up emotions that few other symbols can. Since the passage of the Act of Union in 1800, the cross of St Patrick that so many people want to remember —

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Is this a point of order?

Photo of Mr Fraser Agnew Mr Fraser Agnew UUAP

I will not give way.

Since the passage of the Act of Union in 1800 the cross of St Patrick has been part of the Union flag, symbolising the unity of the kingdom. It is perhaps ironic that the current problem with the Union flag comes at a time when the flag should be flown over Government buildings to celebrate the Queen’s coronation in 1953. The Ulster flag, with its six-pointed star — one for each county in Northern Ireland — and its crown, was created in 1953 for the Queen’s coronation. It was a civil flag for Northern Ireland, but its official status was abolished when the Northern Ireland Parliament was closed down in 1973. Thereafter, the Union flag was made the official flag in Northern Ireland. That is a fact.

The Flags and Emblems (Display) Act 1954 outlawed the display of a flag likely to cause a breach of the peace — clearly meaning the Irish tricolour — and made it an offence to interfere with the display of the Union flag. That Act appears to have been repealed in the United Kingdom during the 1980s.

Although the Union flag has never been officially adopted by law as the national flag of the United Kingdom, it has become so by usage — and that is acceptable in the strange system that we call the British constitution. The Government stated that it is the correct flag for use by British citizens. The situation is slightly different at sea, as the Government has reserved the Union flag for specific military purposes. In fact, it should only be called the Union Jack by the Royal Navy.

Interestingly, the Flag Institute has published the draft of a Flag Act that would confirm in law the Union flag’s status as our national flag. It also lays down some specifications and a usage code that some Members would be quite happy to see, and that has already been mentioned. The institute is lobbying to have the document put before Parliament in time for the bicentenary of the United Kingdom and the current Union flag in 2001. On 26 May Peter Mandelson said that those who attacked the agreement played on the fears that it would diminish their identity and undermine their tradition. He claimed that it did no such thing, and that it cherished diversity, securing British identity while recognising and respecting Nationalists and Republicans who do not share that identity.

I suggest that one of the most potent symbols of our Britishness is the Union flag, and if any attempts are made to diminish it, to discredit it, or to take it down, then that is taking away from the consensus part of the so-called Belfast Agreement. I would have thought that the consent principle was recognising the rights of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland who wanted to retain their British citizenship.

But, at a stroke, when one starts pulling down the Union flag one is taking away, in a very symbolic way, the essence of that consent principle — the right of the people to determine their future under the flag of the British Crown.

The ‘Belfast Telegraph’ of 26 May said of the agreement:

"The reality is that it seeks to establish a new dispensation based on consensus, equality and mutual respect."

Where are the consensus, equality and mutual respect when the Union flag is not acceptable? We demand from all Members a basic civility towards the flag and symbols which reflect the fact that they are living in, and indeed some are governing, a part of the United Kingdom.

Photo of David Ervine David Ervine PUP 11:30 am, 6th June 2000

I am minded of those who are determined to make me respectable in a world that is not respectable. I have been listening to guffaws and hee-haws all around me on what is an extremely serious and difficult subject. Many within the Nationalist community hear those guffaws and hee-haws, and yesterday they witnessed, as one Member said, an opportunity to destroy or cause serious wounding to that "fundamentally flawed Executive" as he lifted his papers and left. It was by leave of the Assembly that they could have inflicted serious damage and refused to do so.

So when the Nationalist community interprets from guffaws and hee-haws the real truth that the huffers and the puffers have no intention of pulling the house down, they should not misunderstand that as being the view and the will and the attitude of the people in our society.

Flags, as has already been said, give rise to serious concern. People fight all over the world about them. We would have fought over them, and probably did in many ways, prior to Good Friday, April 1998. But when we look at the issue of the Union flag being flown on public buildings in our society we should be minded that this is not pre-1998 — it is post-1998.

As a politician — and some would say that I am still an amateur one — I have represented a group of people whom many here may not like, and even the Members to my left may not like them. Those people comprised the Combined Loyalist Military Command. They predicated a ceasefire on six specific principles. One of those principles was that there was to be no diminution of the Britishness of Northern Ireland, provided, of course, that such was by the will of the people. Well, the Britishness of Northern Ireland has been copper-fastened as the will of the people.

Whether we like it or not, we once heard Gerry Adams talk about embracing his Protestant brothers and sisters. I suppose the outworking of the Good Friday Agreement is that he accepted that he would have to embrace his British brothers and sisters.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and Dermot Nesbitt is absolutely correct when he divorces the flying of the flag on a public building from an expression of culture. It is not an expression of culture; it is a specific constitutional statement that reflects the terms of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland’s constitutional position.

There is in many ways a foolishness about the debate and about the Petition of Concern. There is a foolishness abroad that makes us forget that in 1966 a flag had to be removed from the offices of Sinn Féin — I might once have described it as the IRA, and then it became the Official IRA. There was a demand for that flag to be removed using the public order legislation, and, of course, those people who were responsible for that are sitting not very far away from me.

That flag, by the way, was not removed by the state. I know the identity of the person who did it, but, of course, I have to be careful as there is no statute of limitations in Northern Ireland. I know the person who broke the window and took the flag out at the behest of those who were bellicose ranters demanding that either the state do it, or they would. Then that flag was replaced by hundreds of flags.

Surely that is the lesson. It seems quite ludicrous that the flag that was taken was the flag of the Irish Republic: the tricolour. Those people who say that the tricolour is their flag are creating exactly the same difficulties when they demand that the Union flag does not fly.

They are creating a head of steam, they are creating a sense of anger and bitterness. They are reminding us of the 72 days in which we had an Executive and in which we had Carrickmore and Pomeroy. We had the circumstances of the debacle of an attempt, quite legitimate under the Good Friday Agreement, to extradite Angelo Fusco. We had all of that in-your-face pathetic politics by the Republican movement outside this Building and, indeed, some not very sensible things inside this Building. If it is to be delivered to the people of Northern Ireland — including the Combined Loyalist Military Command — and accepted by Unionists, the expression of Irishness contained in the Good Friday Agreement has to be dealt with on a proactive basis. This expression of Irishness would appear to mean, as far as the Nationalist representatives are concerned, the diminution of the Unionist position in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

We in the Women’s Coalition are very aware of the highly sensitive nature of this debate. We do not approach it lightly. On the contrary, we understand that the issue of flags, emblems and symbols of our culture, our political aspiration or our constitutional status is a fundamental question which lies at the very core of the new arrangements we are putting in place. It is exactly because this issue is important that we believe it should be the subject of serious studied debate over time and not of a simple show of hands on the floor of the Assembly or a 30-second sound bite to satisfy a media hungry for controversy. In the House of Commons last month the Secretary of State said the issue of flags was best resolved by the Northern Ireland Executive, and we agree. In the event of a dispute the Secretary of State has the power to set the regulations if

"the issue is becoming a palpable source of division among its Members".

We believe this should provide the space necessary for us to work our way into this unique fledgling democracy and give us time to build the ground we have in common, rather than that which divides us.

The Good Friday Agreement clearly recognises the fact that, while the sovereignty of the United Kingdom is maintained through the will of the majority of the electorate in Northern Ireland, such sovereignty will be exercised in the context of the

"just and equal treatment of the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities".

In other words, the expression of sovereignty should be managed in such a way that it is both sensitive and sympathetic to those who do not hold similar aspirations. Why, for example, do we insist that symbols automatically follow sovereignty? Do we lack the confidence to know who we are without having to rub each other’s noses in it? This is not about the reduction of Britishness or Irishness; it is about learning to live together. This may not be a marriage, but it is a cohabitation of sorts. Everyone knows that when you live together in partnership, you have to make compromises. If one partner wants to paint the front of the house one colour and the other partner wants to paint the front of the house another colour, the best and only way to achieve harmony is either not to paint the house at all or to choose a colour which is neutral and which is acceptable, not just to both but to all who live in that house.

This Assembly is the new home of our Government.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir UUP

Will the Member take a point of information?

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC


We have got to look at all the options available to us. Should we, for example, avoid flying the official flag and make a neutral working environment in line with the fair employment legislation, or should we agree symbols that reflect a shared identity?

We managed to agree the flax flowers as the symbol of the Assembly without controversy, and they are accepted by all. Alternatively, if we truly want to reflect our status, why should we not be proud to fly the European flag on every public building?

This is just the second week of our new Government, and we have much to do. I make this point with much sincerity: our farmers, who gathered here in their thousands asking for our help, did not stop to check if the Union flag was flying before they marched up these steps. Our textile workers and our young people are more concerned about staying out of the dole office than about whether a flag, or which one, is flying above it. We are here to make life better for them and for others in our community, and that is what we intend to do.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea DUP

The contributions today are rather interesting. I am sad that Mr Ervine is away because I noticed that he was clearly smarting from the skilful planning of the DUP in the Assembly yesterday — he could not hide his disgust and his disappointment that we allowed the finances to go on. He wanted us to hurt the ordinary people, to rob money from the farmers and to stop the operations for patients. It would have given him pleasure to have stopped the schools for the children. We intend, as a party, to make the Executive bite the dust, not the ordinary, decent, law-abiding people of this country.

What we are reaping today are the fruits of the Belfast Agreement. We are seeing concession after concession. The pan-Nationalist front has its begging bowl out more and more, and it is getting cheekier.

We heard from a Member from Londonderry. I cannot understand why she would be angry about the Union flag. Did her husband not fight under the Union flag? Was he not glad, as a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, to fight under the Union flag and be a part of the country?

Perhaps because of the embarrassment of her past, she is trying to impress her new credentials upon those whom she now wants to embrace her. It ill becomes people to try to pretend something rather than face the realities.

The sad reality is that we are having an anti-British campaign, not only from without but from within the Executive. And who put them in the Executive? Members of the Ulster Unionist Party, as part of the Belfast Agreement, voted them in — and put them back in just recently —ensuring that Martin would be the head of education and Barbara Brown would be head of health, both running Departments.

Interestingly enough, while they condemn Britishness, it was their two Departments that received more money from the British exchequer recently. It was education and health that got the injection of money from the British exchequer. Of course, who could better hold out their begging bowls than Republicans — that is how they have lived and practised all their years.

It seems to be politically correct today not to put up a photograph of Her Majesty the Queen — that is not allowed. You cannot walk freely down Her Majesty’s highway; you cannot fly the flag of your country; you cannot take an oath of allegiance to the Queen. On and on the concessions go, and it is rather empty for Members of the Ulster Unionist Party to bleat empty phrases of horror when it comes to this issue because this is a part of their agreement — they had the power to stop it.

The agreement was sold on falsehood. There were three principles. First of all we were told the consent principle had been settled, and settled forever. All those who signed up to the agreement had signed up to the principle of consent; they had accepted, acknowledged and embraced the fact that Northern Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom. What utter rubbish. The people were sold a lie, and we are reaping the harvest of that lie.

Secondly, there was the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The name and the badge were solved in the piece of paper that Mr Taylor held in his pocket. Yet in a meeting with Mr Ingram — and my party leader was there — the Minister said that the name of the gallant RUC would not appear in the long or short title of the Bill coming before Parliament today.

In fact Mr Ingram said the issue was spurious. That was his answer. That is a second principle, a second lie that was sold to the Unionist population.

The third was about the flag. We were told that the Hillsborough Agreement had settled this issue. The reality is that the IRA has tried to take down the Union flag of this country with their bombs and their bullets. Thank God the people of Ulster are made of better stuff, for they have withstood the bombs and the bullets of terrorism. If we were able to withstand all that, we certainly are not going to allow anyone to take down our country’s flag.

We are faced with the harvest of the Belfast Agreement. Sadly, the only flag that the Ulster Unionists have unfurled in the negotiations is the white flag of surrender to the Republican/Nationalist agenda. The Unionist population are now reaping the harvest of such ill-informed negotiations. We the Ulster Democratic Unionist Party, believe that the flag should be flown over this Building on every day the Assembly is sitting and in every Government building.

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP 11:45 am, 6th June 2000

This motion is to do with a very important issue. It can be separated into two parts. The first concerns the Union flag’s being flown over Executive buildings, and the second being its flown on Parliament Buildings on all sitting days. I agree with both points but will address them separately.

We should refer to the agreement made on Good Friday, as it is quite clear on constitutional issues. Paragraph 1(i) of this section states that the British and Irish Governments will

"recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status".

In paragraph 1(iii) the participants endorse their commitment to acknowledge that

"the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exercised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union and, accordingly, that Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish."

That is the consent principle. To reinforce this and back it up the Irish Government altered articles 2 and 3 to remove their legal claim under constitutional imperative. It is, therefore, for the people of Northern Ireland to determine the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, an issue that has separated us for 80 or 90 years. It is quite clear what that wish is; Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom because the people of Northern Ireland so determine, and for no other reason. That is where we are. Northern Ireland is part of the sovereign United Kingdom — part of the British state — and the constitutional symbol, not the cultural symbol, of that state is the Union flag.

In the United Kingdom as a whole the Union flag is flown on designated Government buildings on designated days. That is the constitutional symbol; it is a legitimate expression of the constitutional position of the United Kingdom as a whole and a legitimate expression of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland in particular.

Sinn Féin has failed to accept and recognise that and to deny the agreement that is at the root of this. If Sinn Féin and Nationalists are genuine about wanting the tricolour to fly over this building, there is only one way that could be done, and that would be to persuade the people of Northern Ireland to vote Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom and into a united Ireland. The reason they are denying the consent principle is that they now understand that that is a possibility so remote as to be politically unachievable, certainly in their lifetimes. If they thought there was any possibility of achieving that within a set period — Gerry Adams talked about 15 years — if they had some form of stepping stone, then they would be reinforcing the consent principle. The dangerous aspect is that if they do not accept the consent principle, why should Unionists? If they ever achieved a majority, are we supposed to accept that? Why should we accept it when they do not? They understand this, but they deny it, because they know that the chances of the people of Northern Ireland voting Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom and into a united Ireland are so remote as to be unlikely to occur within the lifetime of any of us here.

The Union flag is flown as a constitutional symbol. Within the agreement we have said that symbols will be used sensitively. You talk about parity of esteem. Parity of esteem means equal respect—but it does not mean recognition. There is a difference between respect and recognition.

If we are serious about the agreement, and if we are serious about this consent principle that is the fundamental cornerstone of the agreement, then there should be no problem with anyone operating what has been a custom and a practice. There is no legal basis for flying the flag, and it does not fly by royal prerogative. It is flown throughout the United Kingdom by custom and practice. If Sinn Féin and Republicans are determined to deny this, then they are denying the fundamental cornerstone of the agreement and they are denying the agreement itself.

I believe that Unionism and Unionists will take that as a serious —

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

Thank you. I will wind up.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

When Mr McCrea rose sporting his yellow tie I thought, for one lovely moment, he was half way there. However, he began to talk about begging bowls. Earlier his party leader talked about coins. Perhaps at the end of this debate we should have a silent collection. That might solve the problem.

I was most impressed by yesterday’s business in this Chamber when all parties present demonstrated that they could, if they wished deliver normality and a future that offers a stable and peaceful way ahead. I have no doubt about that.

It seems an awful pity that, only one day later, we are plunged back into a fruitless debate about flags. We should learn from past experiences that these issues are divisive and pointless until we reach agreement. Indeed, this motion can serve no purpose because the Assembly has no power to direct Ministers.

Over the past 30 years, flags have played a big part in marking out territory, denoting difference, and heightening tensions. There are people in this House who are past masters at using flags for their own narrow, sectarian motives. On no occasion can I recall flags being used as a vehicle for reconciliation. David Ervine referred to one of the most notorious incidents involving flags, which took place in Divis Street 34 years ago when the presence of a tricolour caused so much offence to Dr Paisley that the Unionist Government sent the RUC to fetch it. The rest is history, but for those who are too young to remember, shortly afterwards loyalists murdered two Catholics — John Patrick Scullion and Peter Ward. Matilda Gould, a Protestant, also died a short time later. Today 34 years later — with more than 3,500 people dead — Dr Paisley is still obsessed with flags, forgetting nothing, and learning nothing, from the horrors of the past.

In a divided society it is inevitable that flags serve no purpose other than to perpetuate division, fear and suspicion. Whether those flags are on Government buildings, nailed to telegraph poles, or painted on kerb stones, they serve only one purpose; to further sectarianism and polarisation. They are not there out of respect.

Surely there is enough intelligence in this House — I believe that there is — to base our decisions on the experience of the past in relation to flags. We do not have to repeat Divis Street, or write another volume of ‘Lost Lives’. Surely, we must know that it is much better to discover the common ground that unites us, rather than to dwell on the issues which serve only to cause fear, mistrust, and perhaps even a return to the past.

We only live on this planet for a short time, far too short to see the bigger picture. Perhaps in the future there will be common ground that will enable progress on this issue. In such circumstances would it not be nice if the present generation was written into history as having laid the foundation stones for development? Then, a future generation could respect the flag that evolves out of the present peace process; and the work of this Assembly. The flag would be put up at dawn, and taken down at dusk. It would be respected by all, and it would be part of a heritage of which all our people could be proud.

In the meantime, it is best to concentrate on the present and continue building the foundation stones of trust and reconciliation. It would be better perhaps to leave it to future generations, when they have the experience of time and the opportunity to see the bigger picture, to decide the format of the piece of cloth that flutters from the flagpoles. As long as it causes division, a flag is only a piece of cloth.

Flags should be capable of being honoured and respected by all, and not used as floorcloths by people who carve their political existence out of division and bitterness. When we accept that fact and begin the serious business of reaching agreement based on consent, then we will be singing from the same hymn sheet and perhaps flying flags from the same flagpoles. In the meantime, the SDLP has no proposals for flying the tricolour on the Queen’s birthday. That would cause even more confusion and create even more theme parks of flags denoting difference and division.

Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin

A Chathaoirligh. I have a sense of déja vu — indeed, a sense of antediluvian déja vu — about this morning’s motion. David Ervine and John Dallat were right. It was in 1964 that the same Ian Paisley summed up to reporters his attitude to the tricolour:

"I don’t accept that any area in Ulster is Republican, and I don’t want to see the tricolour flying here. I intend to see that the Union Jack flies everywhere and that it keeps flying."

Those comments go to the very heart of the crisis that has bedevilled this society and this state since its inception.

The occasion for those remarks, as I am sure Dr Paisley will recall, was a flag flying in a shop window in Divis Street. The flag was so obscure that you had to stop at the shop window to see it. Yet Ian Paisley gathered a mob, Unionism succumbed to his threats, and the flag was taken from the window. Four days and four nights of bloody riots ensued in which hundreds of men, women and children were injured, some seriously. It was a shameful climbdown by the then Government in Stormont, and if Unionism wants to look to the genesis of the past 30 years, they might examine what happened in Divis Street in 1964. Indeed, the ‘Irish Times’ editorial of 5 October of that year opined

"The tricolour, however, did not appear to worry the authorities overmuch; they showed restraint and good sense. Then came a man in black, a man of God, bringing not peace, but the sword."

It was the sword that was used metaphorically and in other ways to bedevil this society.

This issue is not about flags or the flying of flags. It is not about the flying of a flag as a symbol of cultural identity or as a symbol of Britishness. It is for Nationalists a denial of their right to their identity in the society in which they live. If 100 out of 100 people living in this society were Unionists there would be no problem about the flying of the flag. However, that is not the political reality which exists in this society where 50% of the people are Nationalists and where the majority of school-going people of this part of Ireland are Nationalist/Republican.

It is not about the flying of a flag. It is not about the flying of a flag to remind us of our Britishness. Those who view Unionism as having rights must accept that Nationalists also have rights. They must acknowledge that the rights of Unionists have responsibilities to the rights of Nationalists. Unionists have to come to terms with a number of facts contrary to their belief that the North is like any other part of the United Kingdom. The Good Friday Agreement is evidence and proof that it is not.

Consent is a two-way street. That means that our consent is of equal validity and has equal integrity. Is the Unionist position, as seen in the spirit and letter of this motion, to remain the same — that the exercise of power by anybody other than themselves is a concession and not a right? Is power-sharing to fail because DUP Unionism, allied with anti-agreement UUP Unionism, views the exercise of power by Nationalists as unacceptable? Is the price of the Good Friday Agreement for Unionists not that the democratic deficit, which excluded Nationalists from expressing their culture, religion and social identity, is to be remedied?


Power-sharing failed in the past because Unionism, and particularly Unionism as exemplified by today’s DUP motion, viewed the exercise of power by Nationalists, with all the political implications that that entailed, as a concession and not a right. This motion goes further by making the exercise of power by Nationalists conditional on them emasculating the expressions of their identity.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds DUP

First, the fact that we have to debate and argue about whether the national flag should be flown on Government buildings in Northern Ireland is an indictment of the situation into which the Belfast Agreement has brought this part of the United Kingdom.

We are told that the Belfast Agreement strengthens the Union and the position of Unionists. It is ironic that if the Ulster Unionist Council had not reinstated the Belfast Agreement a few days ago the national flag would have flown on Government buildings last Friday. The reality is that, as a direct result of that vote to proceed with the agreement, the national flag has been torn down at the behest of two Sinn Féin/IRA Ministers.

We were told, as part of the package to persuade and con people, that members of the UUC should vote in favour of the motion, and that a number of issues had been dealt with. We were told that the decommissioning issue had been dealt with. Of course, we know that IRA/Sinn Féin has been admitted back into Government positions without handing over one piece of illegal weaponry and without being required at any time in the future to hand over such weaponry. We also know that there has been no safeguard whatsoever regarding the preservation of the name of the RUC or in relation to some of the most fundamentally obnoxious parts of the Patten report. Those obnoxious parts will proceed. The RUC’s name will be taken away, and the assurances given by Mr Taylor and others amount to nothing.

What assurance and resolution were we told would ensure the issue of flags was sorted out? It was that that power would be given to the Secretary of State — not in legislation to require the flying of the national flag, which is what should have happened, but to whoever he or she might be at any time.

It is ironic that one of the reasons Mr Trimble and others argued we should proceed with devolution, the Belfast Agreement, and letting IRA/Sinn Féin back into Government, was in order to take power out of the hands of the British Government — since that was joint rule, and since Mandelson could not be trusted. Yet they have handed power over the flying of the national flag to Peter Mandelson. That is some assurance and some logic.

The reality, of course, is that the national flag has been torn down. It is not a symbol of party politics, or of a particular group or section. It is the national flag. I listened with incredulity to the talk from the other side of the House about looking to the future and equality. Most of their speeches have comprised looking back to the past over 35 years and blaming people for instigating the troubles. I listened to Sinn Féin/IRA’s talk of equality and respect — was that what the murder campaign for 30 years was about? Is that why they tried to murder my Colleague and I? Was that a contribution to democracy and respect? Let us address the reality here. Let us get away from semantics and rhetoric and realise that these people have not changed, otherwise they would have been prepared at least to begin the process of handing over their illegal terrorist weaponry, rather than hanging on to it.

They talk about consent and the principle of consent that we are told by Mr Trimble and his Colleagues was recognised in the Belfast Agreement. Well, here is the outworking of that principle of consent — the national flag can be torn down. Here is the great accountability that we were told that Ministers would have toward the Assembly. As we said they would, Ministers have full executive responsibility over the Departments that they control, and that is why they have handed power to McGuinness and the Minister of Health to tear down the national flag.

Mr Mandelson made it clear that the legislation made no provision for the flying of the national flag over this building. Even if Mr Mandelson issued a directive that flags should fly over all Government buildings, that would not apply to Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Members and the general public need to be aware of that. The so-called safeguard that was introduced does not actually apply to this building.

We in this House are determined to ensure that wherever possible the national flag flies on appropriate buildings on appropriate days, and we stand by that.

Photo of Dr Ian Adamson Dr Ian Adamson UUP

Now for something a wee bit different. Ulster has a unique position, set as it is against the face of Britain across a narrow sea and separated from the rest of Ireland by a zone of little hills, so the characteristics of our language and our people have been moulded by movements large and small between the two islands since the dawn of human history.

The difference between Ulster and the rest of Ireland is one of the most deeply rooted, ancient and, from a literary point of view, most productive facts of early Irish history. Ulster’s bond with Scotland and Britain as a whole counterbalances her lax tie with the rest of Ireland. We need but think of the kingdoms of the ancient British Cruthin in both areas, and of the Ulster Scottish kingdom of Dál Riada from the last quarter of the fifth to the close of the eighth century. We can think of Irish relations with the kingdom of the Hebrides and Argyll from the twelfth century on and, particularly, of the immigration of Hebridean soldiers, gallowglasses, from the thirteenth century to the sixteenth century, which led to the Gaelic revival. There was a constant coming and going between north-eastern Ireland and western Scotland. The Glens of Antrim were in the hands of the Scottish MacDonalds by 1400, which is why we have Alasdair with us today, and for the next 200 years Gaelic-speaking Scots came in large numbers. The often-quoted seventeenth century immigration of numerous Scots need not be considered outside the preceeding series, bringing of course yourself, Mr Speaker. There has been movement of people between the two islands ever since.

Yet to me the denial by Nationalists and Republicans of the essential Britishness of Ireland in general and Ulster in particular must be considered a root cause of the conflict here in Northern Ireland. Ireland was British in the second century, and Ulster was British until at least the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. The third and fourth centuries in Ireland, or little Britain as it was known to the Greeks and Romans, are extremely remarkable for the unusually rapid development of the Gaelic language, which was originally brought to Ireland by Spanish invaders. This is evidenced by the passage of loan words used by the native British population into Gaelic, which itself means raider or barbarian in old British. The name Ireland is pre-Celtic, but Glasgow is old British or Welsh for green hollow, and Paisley is old British or Welsh for basilica, or church of Christ.

For many ordinary Unionists today our British heritage in all its aspects, ancient, medieval and modern, is represented by the Union flag. The attempted neutralisation by some Nationalists and Republicans therefore represents for them a worrying expression of anti-British sentiment and the fundamental denial of their civil rights and liberties.

Surely it would be much better to listen to the words of Seamus Heaney when he says in the introduction to his great Irish epic ‘Buile Suibhne’ — ‘Sweeney Astray’:

"It is possible, in a more opportunistic spirit, to dwell upon Sweeney’s easy sense of cultural affinity with both western Scotland and southern Ireland as exemplary for all men and women in contemporary Ulster, or to ponder the thought that this Irish invention may well have been a development of a British original."

I support the motion.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

Like many in the House, I have a sense of déjà vu in relation to this issue, particularly given the remarks of Assembly Member Cedric Wilson this morning in which he referred to the Petition of Concern as being "the product of the pan-Nationalist front". Of course it is not the product of the pan-Nationalist front. The Alliance Party and the Women’s Coalition are also involved. I remind Cedric Wilson that, on another occasion in the House — indeed, on 17 January — he, along with the Ulster Unionists, the DUP and Sinn Féin went into the Lobbies against the SDLP on a reasoned amendment in relation to this issue of flags. The SDLP, on that occasion, put forward an amendment that sought to put this issue where it should be — at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement. This is where this issue should be dealt with, within the Good Friday Agreement.

We as a party have not used or abused our Ministries as party political property, we have not given orders to civil servants in relation to raising or lowering flags. No order has come from SDLP Ministers in relation to this. We reject the concept of Ministries being silos that are party political property. The SDLP believes that this issue, like all other contentious issues, should be brought to the Assembly. It should be thrashed out in the Executive, and we should try to reach agreement. That is the approach of our Ministers. We did not take unilateral action, nor do we intend to. We intend to move forward, to try to reach agreement on this most contentious issue. The importance of this issue is recognising that within the Good Friday Agreement, all these contentious issues are, in fact, being addressed.

Dermot Nesbitt, in his address to the House, said that Unionists argue that the Union flag should be flown because the principle of consent means that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. That is a simplistic view of the agreement. It is a simplistic view of the flag issue. It is an incorrect reading of the agreement.

A Member:

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

No, I will not because my time is short. The principle of consent is only one of the six principles on constitutional arrangements for Northern Ireland laid down in international law and in the Good Friday Agreement. There are five others, including, importantly, an affirmation that, whether Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom or not, there will be

"parity of esteem and ... just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities."

Furthermore, the agreement recognises the right of all the people of Northern Ireland to

"identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both".

It is therefore simplistic to say that the flag should be flown because of the principle of consent. Account also has to be taken of the other principles to which I have referred.

Finally, there are three ways of addressing the contentious issue of flags. First, you could do it on the basis of equality. Secondly, you could do it on the basis of total neutrality.

Thirdly, you could do it on the basis of trying to create and achieve consensual, common symbolism. The latter approach was taken by this Assembly when it was initially set up, when it embraced the flax flower as its motif, as its logo. That was a step in the right direction, and that is the step which I and my party believe you should try to follow. Surely that is a reasonable approach; surely it is reasonable to try to unite people rather than divide them.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP 12:15 pm, 6th June 2000

I speak in support of the proposal. I have received a lot of correspondence on this issue through my advice centre, by phone and by letter. The meaningfulness of the Union has given us the freedom to express our identity and culture without malice and within the confines of the law of the land. The truth of the matter is that pan-Nationalism does not understand the concept of the Union and has no wish to do so. Their political philosophy does not seek to include but rather to exclude. It is a profoundly elitist ideal in which those who do not fulfil their anti-British or Gaelic/Irish agenda have no part to play. It can not, therefore, be surprising that a movement which seeks to destroy the constitutional wishes of the majority should also challenge the authority of the sovereign Government as represented through the flag of the Union. This lack of democracy is no better illustrated than by IRA/Sinn Féin’s actions in challenging the Crown in Northern Ireland and removing the flag of the sovereign Government from Government buildings. They have done this because it represents all that these people detest: freedom, liberty and justice for all.

Their agenda also purports to see freedom, liberty and justice for all — but only if you fit their bill. Thirty years of murder is a very real reflection of what will happen if you do not comply. They have represented a political philosophy which belongs in the Dark Ages, one that is founded on hatred, sectarianism, cultural apartheid and intimidation. Of course, it is the individual’s democratic right to peacefully espouse whatever political opinion he or she desires. Unfortunately the problem for Irish Nationalism is that it has always been both associated with and wedded to armed terror and to the physical eradication of all things British, including those who remain loyal to the Crown and to the principles of the Union. Members of the SDLP, of course, will probably take exception to some of these remarks. However, the fact of life in Ulster politics is that the SDLP now exists merely to give credibility to the actions of IRA/Sinn Féin. They have always operated from a position of apparent moderation, making conciliatory noises on the back of IRA/Sinn Féin activity, safe in the knowledge that they are not preventing the progress of their common agenda; the removal of all things British, including the right to fly the flag of the Government on Government buildings.

The SDLP preach inclusion and the need for cross-community co-operation yet practice exclusion. Their actions on Down District Council, for one example, do nothing to contradict this analysis. Eamonn ONeill, the Member for South Down, in his capacity as a member of Down District Council successfully proposed the banning of the Union flag from Down council’s buildings. In so doing he caused consternation amongst the people of that area, and consequently, members of the Unionist population there are considering their future in respect of the council.

This is the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and represents the authority and the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament. This flag, through the rights which flow from it, gives each and every individual and every local minority and majority the right to fully express their particular cultural and religious identities, as long as they do not impinge on other civil or religious liberties. To remove this flag is not just an unprecedented insult to every Unionist citizen in the district, but it also represents a two-fingered salute to the sovereign Government which gave this institution its power. One of our SDLP Members served in the UDR. He had no problem with that; he served for a number of years. He is not here at the moment, perhaps he is having his lunch. He was able to serve under the Union flag, and that was no bother to him. Unfortunately for Unionism the pan-Nationalist front has gained a new Member in the last few weeks in the form of the Ulster Unionist Party — in the form of the leadership — represented in this House by a group of individuals too concerned about paying off the new car, or paying for the holiday to worry about the fact that they are selling this country out from under their own clumsy feet.

Their 1998 Assembly manifesto contained the question "Will a ‘Yes’ vote undermine our flag and culture?" and gave the answer as "No." This is another example of a manifesto commitment cast aside by those new agents of pan-Nationalism, the leaders of the Ulster Unionist Party. We had a taste of having armed terrorists in Government between November 1999 and February 2000, and witnessed their intention to undermine the integrity of the Union flag.

When he came back from Taiwan, John Taylor told us that he had assurances on the Union flag and on the RUC. What we have seen is the very opposite. People could be forgiven for thinking that Mr Taylor had an example of Montezuma’s revenge, as we saw at the Waterfront Hall.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir UUP

The leader of the main party opposite often tells us that one cannot eat a flag. That is a truism, but it is also an attempt to portray his party as post-Nationalist — one which has left Nationalism behind and embraces Europeanism. This is a very strange situation. For the first time in the two-year life of this Assembly, the SDLP has signed a Petition of Concern. Today we see the SDLP in its true green colours, a party with Nationalism at its heart.

The flags issue is crucial for Northern Ireland, and not simply because of the offence caused to many people by the failure of Sinn Féin Ministers to fly the flag, particularly in my constituency of North Down. One of the buildings affected has been the Department of Education headquarters at Rathgael House. Many of my constituents have been deeply offended by the actions of the Minister, Martin McGuinness. Flag-flying goes to the heart of such key issues as the acceptability of Sinn Féin in Government; the degree to which Nationalism has accepted the principle of consent; the degree to which our Britishness is being respected; and the degree to which the Executive works as a cohesive unit.

On the first of those issues, Sinn Féin must pass a number of tests if it is to be acceptable as part of the Government of Northern Ireland. It must show that it is committed to peaceful means: it has clearly failed to do that so far. It must show that it is committed to the rule of law: again, it has clearly failed to do that. Indeed, it has indicated that even in a post-Patten situation young Nationalists should not consider joining the police.

Secondly, the flags issue shows that Sinn Féin fails on the crucial issue of consent. We must be wary of this issue. Everyone is entitled to have aspirations. We all have aspirations. I aspire to play centre forward for Northern Ireland at Windsor Park. That is not going to happen. One of the Members opposite aspires to be Lord Mayor of Belfast, and to one day have the opportunity to drive a car that has not been provided for the disabled. There is nothing wrong with having aspirations, but I take grave exception to the placing of the aspiration for a united Ireland on a par with my British citizenship. That is unacceptable. It strikes at the heart of the consent principle.

We were told at the time of the referendum that the consent principle had been fully accepted by Nationalists. Then again, we were told many things at the referendum that have not come to pass. Mr Maginness’s speech showed that Nationalist acceptance of the principle of consent is, at best, extremely limited. It is like being put on a boat and told that you are able to step off the boat, but only at the last step before you go over the waterfall. That is the attitude of Nationalists. Their acceptance of consent is only at the very final question. Anything that highlights the principle of consent, be it the name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the flying of flags, is clearly not accepted.

Thirdly, this process has had the effect of diminishing our Britishness. We have seen the change of the RUC name.

We have seen the changes in the Criminal Justice Review, and now we are seeing the flag coming down. It is what a Colleague of mine calls "dimmer switch Britishness". Gradually the lights are going out throughout Northern Ireland on our British status.

Finally, this issue shows that the Executive is not operating as an Executive. There has not been one coherent policy, but rather a series of fiefdoms where individual Ministers take their own decisions without any collective will. Some people tell us that this matter has been resolved to their satisfaction, because it has been placed in the hands of the Secretary of State. This is a Secretary of State whose record on the flag in relation to the Patten report was totally unacceptable. I have no great confidence in the Secretary of State, but today the Assembly has the opportunity to give voice to our views. Despite the constraints put on this motion by the petition of concern from the SDLP, Sinn Féin, Alliance and the Women’s Coalition, Members should send a clear signal that they are committed to the principle of consent by supporting the motion and supporting the flying of the Union flag over Government buildings.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

First, I want to deal with some of the points raised about the approaches of different Ministers and parties to this matter. I re-emphasise Alban Maginness’ point that none of the SDLP Ministers directed that the flag was not to be flown on any of the designated days. That was not because we chose to have the flag flying, or wished the flag to be flown, but because we recognise that we have agreed in the Good Friday Agreement to deal with this sensitively. We are going to try to come to some agreement, some workable accommodation.

Which building comes under the control of which Minister is a matter of chance. It so happens that my ministerial office is in Rathgael House, Bangor. However, it is not on the premises of the Department of Finance and Personnel, but the premises of the Minister of Education. On Friday, the flag did not fly over the building in which my office is located. However, the result of such a directive is that the area surrounding Rathgael House has become a veritable theme park of all sorts of flags — not just the Union flag, but the flags of various Loyalist paramilitaries. I cannot see how that solves the problem. I cannot understand how people can be so concerned and vexed about one flag flying over a building, and then take great delight and amusement when the building and its approach roads are surrounded by much more offensive flags. Flags carrying the emblems of paramilitaries are sinister. They are not flags to which anyone could profess the respect and esteem that I recognise that Colleagues opposite do to the Union flag.

That is what stunt politics generates. Putting flags up all over the place and pulling flags down all over the place is stunt politics. We are not going to get into that, whatever the political pressures that might be upon us.

Government Departments are not the private property of the parties to which the Ministers belong. That also applies to parties talking about rotating Ministers and Departments. We hear about DUP Departments and Sinn Féin Departments. Departments should not be identified according to the party political allegiance of their Ministers. That is completely wrong. It is unfair to the people who work in those Departments and to the people relating to those Departments and depending on their services. That is why we are behaving with sensitivity.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Has this anything to do with flags?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

It is a great deal closer to the mark than some of the other speeches.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

We want to be clear on that point. In case anyone tries to misinterpret or misrepresent what we are saying, I ask those who say that we should have ordered the flags down what the result would have been? It would have compounded an already difficult situation. Feelings are running high, and people are very sensitive about this issue. For us to have jumped on that bandwagon would have only compounded the difficulties. It would not have helped to solve the problem. It would have ensured that we go even more rapidly to the invocation of the directive powers that the Secretary of State has in reserve.

That is something which we have said we are opposed to. We are not going to engage in a cheap stunt by saying we are opposed to the Secretary of State’s powers, but are going to commit ourselves to a gimmick that actually means that those powers are more likely to be invoked and prevent us from any chance of actually dealing with and addressing this particular problem together.

We are trying to show sensitivity on this. That is why I particularly resent the suggestions and the insinuations that a pan-Nationalist front is afoot, and that we are trying to strip people of their Britishness.

Unionists want to feel that they have a place of respite under this Agreement. They want to know that the Agreement, as the package that they believe it is, and as the process about which Nationalists talk, is not an ever-growing Nationalist process and an ever- diminishing Unionist package.

That is a serious political issue, which we all have to address responsibly. It is going to take time for us to learn to respect each other and adjust. That is why we have done nothing prematurely.

Equally, it would have been unforgivable for us to allow this particular motion— which is not about sensitivity — to pass. It is about flying the flags on even more days than have already been the cause of controversy. That would hardly be sensitive, and we could not afford to have such a motion passed by this House — and which would have the standing of this House — possibly being abused in the future by the Secretary of State when it comes to his directive powers. We had no choice but to put forward the petition of concern.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP 12:30 pm, 6th June 2000

As a Member of the Ulster Unionist Party I will be supporting the motion put forward by the DUP. However, the motion is divisive. They are again exercising themselves in simply trying to stir up division, cause trouble, whinge, moan, complain and sit in the corner and take their salaries at the end of the month.

The flags issue has divided the community in Northern Ireland for a long time, and it is going to continue to divide us. I am grateful to the SDLP for the way in which it has shown sensitivity in the Departments it controls. That is a sensible way forward and it respects the sensitive nature of this issue in both communities. It shows that the SDLP is willing, on this occasion, to actually try and listen to, and to understand and deal sensibly with, issues that are different between the Unionists and Nationalists in this community.

It is a shame that Sinn Féin has not learnt that it would be good for them to actually try on one occasion to understand Unionists a bit. It could try to understand that we have sensitivities, and that the symbols of Unionism and of our culture are important to us. I would be grateful if Sinn Féin would try and do this in order to make it easier for those of us who are trying extremely hard to deal with the baggage that we carry while trying to move this community on. Yet it continues to slap people like us in the face.

Photo of David Ervine David Ervine PUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have to say that in another august body in Long Kesh we could hear the debates. I cannot hear what people are saying here.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. The debate is coming towards its end now, and I appeal to Members to hold respect for a bit longer.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The flying of the Union flag is not the display of a cultural symbol for me. The Union flag does not represent my British culture. It represents the symbol of the state in which I reside. If, by Act of Parliament, the flag were changed tomorrow, then I would give my allegiance to the new flag that was created. It just so happens that the flag that is in existence is the one that was created following the Act of Union in 1801.

If the United Kingdom, the Queen and Parliament decided to make a change to that flag, then that would be the new flag of the nation in which I reside. All that I would ask is for respect to be given to the flying of the flag that reflects the nation in which we reside. That is what is contained in the agreement. The principle of consent means that we respect the flag of the nation we reside in. We respect the fact that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. That is the compromise that has been given.

There is a compromise on both sides here — Unionists have compromised in accepting that, in the eventuality of the majority of people in Northern Ireland agreeing that their future was best in a United Ireland, the constitutional status of Northern Ireland would change. I would not choose to reside in that state — I simply would not wish to. However, we have compromised on that. We are prepared to accept that, even though it is against our will. As a minority we would accept the decision of the majority. We are asking, when the reverse of that is the case, that Nationalists accept that the majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to reside in the United Kingdom. In view of this, the symbols of the state of the United Kingdom should be the ones which are seen in and on public buildings in Northern Ireland.

I spoke yesterday with my partner who has just come back from England. She was struck by the fact that when she was driving through England there were far fewer flags displayed. What she also found interesting was that all the Union flags on display in England were in good order and properly maintained.

Photo of Mr Denis Haughey Mr Denis Haughey Social Democratic and Labour Party

I can understand how, when Members are speaking, occasional remarks are passed. However, I do not think that it is acceptable in the House for there to be a fascistic conspiracy to deprive Members of their democratic right to make their points of view. I call on you, Mr Speaker, to take those measures necessary to ensure that Mr Shipley Dalton and other Members have the democratic right to make their views known.

Photo of Alasdair McDonnell Alasdair McDonnell Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr Haughey has made my point. I want to hear what Mr Shipley Dalton is saying, and I am being deprived of that by the rabble down in that corner.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

We are often told that the House follows the practices of another place. There is a continual conspiracy on the part of the pan-Nationalists to keep me from speaking and to defeat me at the polls, but I beat them every time. What will these Gentlemen do if they are elected to the House of Commons? They would be on their feet all the time complaining that they can hear nothing. I sit on a Bench where I cannot hear anything — even the Speaker cannot hear. They feel that it is not parliamentary if someone passes a comment on what is said.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

There are two separate issues. One is the question of occasional remarks being passed — this is not unusual and occasionally even contributes to the debate. However, it is a different matter when there is a continual barrage interrupting a particular Member. I would not dream of asking Members to feel respect for each other, but I do ask that Members behave with respect for each other.

The Member who has spoken is right. That is not always apparent in another place. I do invite him to come up the corridor, where he will find it a little more apparent in the other place. He will find the Members there alert and hearing what is going on, rather than rowdy and not listening to what is going on. I appeal to Members to behave with respect to each other, even when they do not feel it all the time.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds DUP

I appeal to Members of the House to allow the Member who is speaking to say what he is saying very clearly. What he is saying is extremely interesting and no doubt will be of extreme importance in days to come. Given his views on the national flag, the more he speaks the better.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I therefore appeal for the Member’s assistance with his Colleagues.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP

It might be nice to have this repeated at —

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

That is not a point of order, and the Member was not called to speak.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

I am very pleased that Nigel Dodds, the Member for North Belfast, for once actually wants to listen to what I have to say. The point I was trying to make was that in discussions yesterday with my partner, who has just recently returned from England — and before anybody in the Front Bench of the DUP gets the host up, my female partner — pointed out to me that in her travels she saw a number of Union flags, although nowhere near the number one sees in Northern Ireland.

Every last one of them was well maintained and flown the right way up. She returned to Northern Ireland and saw raggedy flag after raggedy flag tied to lamp-posts in Dundonald.

In this community we have used and abused the Union flag for many years. Rather than showing it the proper respect it deserves as a symbol of our nation, we have used it as a battering ram and as an attempted cultural symbol for one community to do down the other with. That is why Nationalists find it difficult to accept the Union flag as the flag of our nation. How is that going to be improved by flying yet more flags from lamp-posts around Rathgael House?

I hope that the Minister of Education will, in due course, listen to the concerns of Unionists and respect what he signed up and agreed to in the agreement. The principle of consent means that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom, and therefore the flag of the United Kingdom, as chosen by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, should be the one that flies on public buildings.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. The time is up. Many other Members wish to speak on this debate. Some of those who had the chance to speak felt rather frustrated that they were allowed only five minutes. Others, who got no chance, will have been even more frustrated, but the Business Committee decided that the time available was to be two hours, and we have come to the end of that period. I call on Dr Paisley to make the winding-up speech, and we will then move immediately to the vote before suspending for lunch.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

This debate was brought about not by the DUP but by the attitude of two Ministers who used their powers to see to it that the flag of our nation was not flown on two days when it should have been. They did not ask the Assembly if that action had universal or even majority support. They did something that was a purely political act to try and satisfy their followers that they were making headway on the Republican agenda that they have embraced.

I notice that every time a Unionist spokesman talks about the pan-Nationalist front, the SDLP gets very excited. There are people other than the SDLP and the IRA/Sinn Féin in the pan-Nationalist front, and the Ulster people have recognised that.

They can abuse me as much as they like. I will not suffer. I will go to Westminster today and cast my vote against the Police Bill. I will sleep well tonight and be back in the morning to do the task that I have to do, but they should realise that I am not speaking for myself. I am speaking for the ordinary, individual Ulsterman who wants to remain in the United Kingdom. No one in the House can deny me that right because on five occasions the people of this Province have had the opportunity to say yes or no, and they said yes.

Even at the last election, when every weapon was used, finances flowed, and newspapers would not take a statement from me, they did not succeed. When you abuse me, you abuse the majority of Ulster’s men and women who have the same convictions.

Sticks and stones may break my bones. The Republicans have fired on me, beaten up my wife when she was a member of Belfast City Council — stoned her — and attempted to murder my son by loosening the wheels on his car. He was clever enough to catch it on. The police said that if he had driven the car, he probably would have been killed. We have all been under that sort of threat, but it will not stop us. Get rid of Ian Paisley, and there will be somebody else speaking the same language and saying the same thing because this represents a large number of people.

I am highly insulted by what Mr Durkan has said. I never thought he would say that Unionists were looking for some place of respite. We are not on the run. He may think we are, but we are not. We are not looking for respite care. We can take care of ourselves. The leading spokesman and Finance Minister of Northern Ireland says that the people of Northern Ireland who do not agree with what is going on, are looking for some place of respite. We are doing nothing of the sort. I want to tell Mr Durkan that we are going to keep the flag flying. We are not going to bend the knee to IRA/Sinn Féin, or any member of the pan-Nationalist front.

Some Members mentioned backgrounds and where people came from. I have no apology to make for my background. It is a pity that the lady, who is not present — oh, I see she is present although she is taking a back seat — Mrs Nelis, did not tell us about her history, about the gypsy she was when she left the SDLP. She did not tell us that her husband was a member of the UDR. We might as well have the full information. When her husband came home did she pick off the harp and the crown and say "You do not need to wear that. That offends me."? I do not know whether she said that. The Minister herself was quick to —

Photo of Mr Pat McNamee Mr Pat McNamee Sinn Féin 12:45 pm, 6th June 2000

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Am I correct in saying that the Member used the word "gypsy" to describe a Member of my party? If so, I think it is inappropriate language.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

It may not be welcome, but it is not unparliamentary.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

The Member will have to learn a bit more. I have been at this game a long time.

We have the Minister who signed the decree to keep the flag off Mr Durkan’s building, so he could not fly the flag, nor could the Secretary of State, according to the press. She cannot be proud of her family tree now, as a Republican, because they were all eminent in the British Army. It is interesting that these things have arisen and that all the blame is put upon the poor Ulster Unionists.

Mr Dallat has quite a record about flags. It was very interesting that he mentioned two murders and forgot about all the IRA murders. He forgot about the tortures and the mutilation that were carried out on the bodies of the dead. I do not want to mention those in this House; they are so gruesome. He need not sit and smile. Only two Roman Catholic killings were the result of Protestants or Unionists. Let us get this right. This is a serious matter because it strikes at the sovereignty of our country.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

Does Dr Paisley agree that this Assembly is moving to a position where it will be unable to issue a decree on flags? Does he agree that this is not a matter for this Assembly or for the Secretary of State or for Her Majesty’s Government? It is a matter for those people who enforce the flying of the flag in line with the command of Her Majesty the Queen and, if all else fails, we should petition Her Majesty the Queen to ensure that her writ runs in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

This Assembly has the power to put the flags up on this Building. The Secretary of State has not taken that power. That power has not been devolved. Let no Unionist tell his people that the Secretary of State is responsible. The Secretary of State is not responsible for that. This Assembly is. That is why this motion is relevant to this Assembly.

What has been illustrated in the House today is the fact that this Assembly is not in charge of its own decisions because the pan-Nationalist front can bring forward its petition of concern. It has been argued by the Official Unionists that this is a breach of the right of self-determination — I already mentioned that in my opening speech — and that is right. But the right of self-determination must be the right of the majority of the population to exercise that self-determination. However, these people veto our right to do that so that we do not have that right. When we read the IRA statement of recent days we notice that it rejected the right of self-determination altogether and said self-determination would have to be eliminated before it would hand over its weapons.

I regret that Members of this House suggest, by the things that they say, that there is a conspiracy on these Benches to keep this man from speaking. If there was any such conspiracy I would have thought that you would have caught on to that long ago. But this is an act to denigrate this Assembly. One of the Members, Mr Nesbitt, said that we were only a little Assembly. I say to the Member that littleness is great. It may not be great in his eyes, but he could call with my optician and might get another pair of spectacles that would help him to appreciate it. This little Assembly can be great. I have no apology to make for the smallness of the territory of Northern Ireland. I am proud of Northern Ireland and I am proud of its people. The people of Northern Ireland are people that need to be encouraged after all they have been through.

Dr Farren came out in his true colours when he told us what he thought in his heart. When sitting at a table in another part of this Building I thought about the time when Mr Mallon told us what he thought of Carson’s monument. He said his flesh crept as he passed it every day. He is going to have terrible trouble with his flesh because he is passing it every day now — he will soon have creeping paralysis if he keeps going past that monument. The next thing will be that they will want to remove Carson’s monument and go back to what the civil righters could not do. They tried to shift the monument of Lord Craigavon — and if you climb the steps you can see the marks on the marble — but old Lord Craigavon’s bust shouted out "not an inch" and they could not get him down the steps.

These matters today are part of a programme — and they are all at one on those benches, and there are some people helping them on — the aim of which is that "we will get you" at the end.

As I said in my opening remarks, they did not have any trouble whatsoever with the minority in the Irish Republic — talk about toleration; the Orangemen could not even march in Dublin because they eliminated them, and that is why we have a population of only 2·5% Protestants now in the South of Ireland. In the South of Ireland there is not even a spokesman for the basic element of Protestantism or Britishness. That is because they are cowed into subjection.

Then we are told that we have to take them when they come here. When Mary McAleese comes up, the RUC are not good enough to protect her and their cars are not good enough for her to ride in. Yet she wants to be received and to sit in the Queen’s chair at the General Assembly; she did not want any lesser chair than that.

I say to the pan-Nationalists that the people of Northern Ireland will not lie down or go away. They might think that the people who are opposed to the agreement are all going to disappear some day. The IRA might shoot some of us and kill us, but that will not settle the matter.

There are people who are dedicated as long as they have the majority and, of course, Mr Kelly has not got 50%. To say that the Nationalists make up 50% is nonsense. I want to tell Mr Kelly that Protestants breed as well.

We are facing an issue that will not go away. I regret that the Executive, instead of facing this, handed it away. They thought they would get it easy, but that is not the case. It is the right of the people in this House to fly the flag on the Building. When we vote today, we are voting for something that we have a right to do. As for the petition of concern, there will always be a petition of concern when there is any matter that is not going to help forward the pan-Nationalist front and its Republican agenda.

I do not have time to deal with some of the matters that were raised in the debate. Mr McGuinness was trying to tell us of the wonderful spirit of unity that was in his heart, a wonderful spirit for his Official Unionist friends. I have never heard such hypocrisy in all my life. He was trying to tell us that, at this time, they were not prepared to fly the flag, but that that did not mean that for all time we would not have the Union flag flying from our buildings.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Let the Union flag fly.

Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 53; Noes 41.



Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Pauline Armitage, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Tom Benson, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Nigel Dodds, Boyd Douglas, Reg Empey, David Ervine, Sam Foster, Oliver Gibson, John Gorman, William Hay, David Hilditch, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, David McClarty, William McCrea, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Maurice Morrow, Dermot Nesbitt, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Patrick Roche, George Savage, Jim Shannon, David Trimble, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Jim Wilson, Sammy Wilson.



Alex Attwood, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, John Dallat, Bairbre dé Brún, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Seán Farren, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, John Kelly, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Alex Maskey, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Martin McGuinness, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Mary Nelis, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Éamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Bríd Rodgers, John Tierney.


Eileen Bell, Seamus Close, David Ford, Kieran McCarthy, Monica McWilliams, Jane Morrice, Sean Neeson.

Total Votes 94 Total Ayes 53 (56.4%)

Nationalist Votes 34 Nationalist Ayes 0 (0%)

Unionist Votes 53 Unionist Ayes 53 (100%)

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Ms Pauline Armitage Ms Pauline Armitage UUP 1:00 pm, 6th June 2000

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I had requested that a code of conduct should be drawn up and circulated to Tellers, so that they would be aware of how they should behave when acting as Tellers. This arose as I was in an unfortunate situation with a particular Teller. Has this been done, or are you working on it?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I did receive your request, and an advisory code of conduct for Tellers has been drawn up. Before that is issued, however, I will be consulting with the Business Committee and, in all probability, with the Procedures Committee. Having observed the vote in the last five or 10 minutes, I think it extremely timely that we have an advisory code for the Tellers.

Photo of Mr Maurice Morrow Mr Maurice Morrow DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As one who has acted as a Teller on a number of occasions, I am very concerned that a finger is being pointed at every Teller here today. My party and I know how to behave as Tellers. We do not interfere with anyone. That should be made quite clear. If an individual has acted in an ungentlemanly way or misconducted himself, that person should be dealt with.

Photo of Ms Pauline Armitage Ms Pauline Armitage UUP

I was not implying that that had happened.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I have responded to the question that has been raised. Members who were acute observers of which Lobbies particular Tellers were in, on this occasion, will understand that conduct is not necessarily a matter of being ungentlemanly or unladylike. It may sometimes be a matter of just being in the wrong Lobby at a particular time.

The sitting was suspended at 1.12 pm

On resuming (Madam Deputy Speaker [Ms Morrice] in the Chair) —