Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 6 June 2000 (continued)

11.45 am

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.

Mr McGimpsey:

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 -

Mr Speaker:

Order. Your time is up.

Mr McGimpsey:

Thank you. I will wind up.

Mr Speaker:

No, your time is up.

Mr Dallat:

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.

Mr J Kelly:

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.

Mr Dodds:

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.

Dr Adamson:

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.

Mr A Maginness:

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?

Mr A Maginness:

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.

12.15 pm

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.

Mr Shannon:

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.

Mr Weir:

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.

Mr Durkan:

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.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

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

Mr Speaker:

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

Mr Durkan:

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.

12.30 pm

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.

Mr Dalton:

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.

Mr Ervine:

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.

Mr Speaker:

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

Mr Dalton:

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.

Mr Haughey:

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.

Dr McDonnell:

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.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

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.

Mr 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.

Mr Dodds:

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.

Mr Speaker:

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

Mr S Wilson:

It might be nice to have this repeated at -

Mr Speaker:

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

Mr Dalton:

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.

Mr 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.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

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.

12.45 pm

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 -

Mr McNamee:

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.

Mr Speaker:

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

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

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.

Mr C Wilson:

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.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

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.


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