Northern Ireland flags issue

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Northern Ireland flags issue

The Northern Ireland flags issue is one that divides the population along sectarian lines. Depending on political allegiance, people identify with differing flags and symbols, some of which have, or have had, official status in Northern Ireland.

Common flags

  • The flag of the United Kingdom, the Union Flag, is the only flag routinely used officially by the sovereign British government, as well as being flown on most council buildings in Northern Ireland. The Union Flag is often flown by unionists but is disliked by nationalists. British law states that the Union Flag must be flown on designated days from central government buildings in Northern Ireland.


The Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 prohibited the display of any flag which was "likely to cause a breach of public order", and gave the police powers to deal with it. However, it specifically excluded the Union flag from its provisions. In 1964, the Royal Ulster Constabulary moved in to remove an Irish tricolour from the window of an office in Belfast, after Ian Paisley had publicly said that if they did not, he would do so personally. This resulted in serious rioting. The Act was repealed in 1987.

In some loyalist areas the flying of flags supporting loyalist paramilitaries has proved controversial. Groups like the Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force, Young Citizen Volunteers, Red Hand Commando, and Loyalist Volunteer Force all have their own unique flags and although these flags usually appear alongside murals, they can occasionally be seen flying from lampposts in villages and towns or flying from houses in the run up to the Twelfth.

Some local councils have debated the usage of the Tricolour. In 2002 Belfast City Council displayed the Tricolour along with the Union Flag in the Lord Mayor's parlour during the term of Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Alex Maskey. A different approach was taken in 1997; when the Social Democratic and Labour Party's (SDLP) Alban Maginness was Lord Mayor, neither flag was displayed. In September 2003, Belfast City Council discussed flying the Tricolour alongside the Union Flag on designated occasions.

The Ulster Banner continues to be used by some local governments, such as the predominantly unionist Castlereagh, which flies it outside its offices.

A decision in December 2012 to fly the Union flag over Belfast City Hall only on certain designated days, instead of all the year round as previously, led to the Belfast City Hall flag protests, which included riots in which police officers were injured.

Haass talks

In 2013, US diplomat Richard Haass chaired talks between the political parties in Northern Ireland dealing with, among other things, the issue of flags. The resulting draft proposals, which were not agreed by the parties, included the idea of a new flag for Northern Ireland, and the possibility of a "circumscribed role for the sovereign flag of Ireland in conjunction with the Union flag."

See also

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