Walker Proposal To Fly Flags On Designated Days Defeated
IN addressing the chamber at a full Down District Council meeting, Councill0r Billy Walker (DUP) presented his motion and explained “some people may think that my effort to raise this issue is divisive and sectarian but they are far from the truth. A process of equality has been run by nationalists on the Irish language – and we as Unionsists are now being told that we have to accept this under the current legislation. I really only wanted to put out a hand of friendship.
Councillor Walker’s motion said: “…that this Council reinstates the flying of the Union Flag at Council Headquarters on designated days of the year.”
Following the debate, he added: “I found the attitude of Alliance Councillor totally bewildering. He just went off on a rant. He said that the DUP was split over the flag policy – there could be nothing more from the truth.
“I would of course love to see the Union flag flying 365 days a year as a Unionsist. Councillor Clarke will have to go knocking in Unionist doors come the election next year and I hope they ask him then to reconsider his position.
“He left the chamber just before the vote was being taken and missed the vote. I really wanted to see if the nationalist could work with unionists and my fears were confirmed. At the moment the Council can fly the Council’s corporate flag but up until 2000, the flag was flown on 18 designated days a year.
“The DUP is fully united on the flag issue. That has to be realised. And I ask, what gains have Unionists made in Down District? None!
“The SDLP too attacked the motion. And previously when I brought a motion forward to remove IRA shrines from Council property they could not support it.
“I knew this present motion would not likely succeed. Basically Down District is a cold house for Unionists and this will likely get worse as we progress towards the Down District Council amalgamating the Newry and Mourne Council. It is a one way street with no equality.”
DUP Cllr Garth Craig seconded the motion and said: “This motion is calling for an even-handed approach, nothing more or less. It is about the Council recognising that Unionism has rights and aspirations as well.”
Speaking at the Council meeting, Councillor Patrick Clarke (Alliance) said: “I am concerned about the timing of this motion certainly in coming so close to Christmas. We are faced with many pressing issues such as roads, agriculture, tourism etc and general bread and butter issues but it seems quite clear from my position that the DUP are out of order on the flags issue.
“The DUP want to fly the flag on designated days in Down District but do not want this in Belfast. It has long been an Alliance policy to fly the flag of designated days. Also, this debate should have been delayed for one month over Christmas.”
Councillor Eamonn O’Neill (SDLP) and his party also opposed the motion. He said that be understood that he motion arose through Cllr Walker from the implementation of the Council’s bilingual policy and added that despite extensive consultations by the Council following the acceptance of the bilingual policy at a council meeting, “no opposition at any level was received”.
He added: “This motion is the same as the compromise motion by Belfast City Council recently. I have to say that it does not fully represent the SDLP view – which is that all public buildings should be politically neutral and be seen to be neutral…I noticed at the weekend that the DUP leader Peter Robinson attacked the use of violence as a ‘tragedy’ but did not accept responsibility for sanctioning the 40,000+ leaflets distributed in East Belfast that started the flags row. Now that the genie is out of the bottle no one wants to accept responsibility.
“Therefore, I checked today and no complaints have been received from members of the public about Down District Council’s flag policy nor has there been one request from any member of the public to fly the Union flag.”
Councillor O’Neill questioned why Cllr Walker raised the motion and said there was no opposition in the district to the Council’s bilingual policy. “There was and is no demand for the flying of the Union flag… does he just want to stir up loyalist people’s feelings up? Or was it to do with UUP Cllr Lyons having made a previous statement on the Irish language and could not be seen to be outdone?
“Whatever the reason, this motion has no validity to the Council or the people of the district. The whole issue is artificial and contrived.”
“This motion is a deliberate attempt to stir up tensions within our district, and the DUP are attempting to play to an audience in true Paisleyite fashion. They want to manufacture a torrent of anger around the flying of the Union flag issue. The target audience are disaffected loyalists disengaged from the political process who lack leadership from mainstream unionism…
“The timing of this motion could not be any more inappropriate, a year to the day almost when Belfast City Council took the democratic decision to reduce the number of days the flag flies over Belfast City Hall…
“The policing cost for this was around £20 million. Numerous businesses went to the wall and many are now struggling showing trading figures worse that the pre-Good Friday Agreement period.
“The DUP are really trying to disguise electoral opportunism as an equality issue to gain a few votes from the hard liners before next May’s election.
“The DUP care nothing for the vast majority of Down District citizens who may view themselves as Irish and do not wish to force the Tricolour on the Unionist community in a triumphalist manner.
“And using Lisburn Council as an example, it has seen seven DUP mayors in 10 tyears because it has chosen to ignore the d’Hondt selection mechanism but in Down District where unionists are in a minority they are happy to work with the d’Hondt system. It seems the DUP only subscribe to this principle when it suits them.”
Cllr Burns asked Cllr Walker if the DUP would implement a party policy to reduce the flying of the union flag to designated days in all councils all year round.
He added: ‘We must also consider the Haass talks ongoing. Dr Haass is attempting to broker a deal over issues such as flags, emblems and the past. But in Craigavon, where the DUP is the biggest party, the Council there argreed to delay the decision until after the conclusion of the Haass talks later in December.”
He ended by asking Cllr Walker if he would withdraw the motion under these circumstances. Cllr Walker declined.
On the vote, the motion was defeated with 11 councillors voting against , 6 for with 1 absent from the chamber.