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26 October 2000 Edition

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Mandelson flies flag for unionists

The British government's proposed legislation on the flying of the Union Jack from public buildings in the Six Counties is being seen as a sop to unionists and a crude attempt to prop David Trimble up in advance of the Ulster Unionist Council meeting on Saturday.

The legislation, to be voted on in the British Parliament late on Wednesday night, 25 October, has been heavily criticised by Sinn Féin, which sees the move as a contradiction of the equality ethos written into the Good Friday Agreement. The party also sees the move as putting unionist political opinion before that of nationalists.

When elected as ministers, Sinn Féin Assembly members Bairbre de Brún and Martin McGuinness refused to allow the Union Jack to be flown from their ministerial offices, a move which drew heavy criticism from unionists.

The intervention of the British Direct Ruler Peter Mandelson has caused outrage among republicans, with Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey accusing him of attempting to force Sinn Féin ministers into flying the Union Flag. He added that irt was another example of the goalposts being moved at the behest of the UUP as they sought to dilute aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.

Earlier in the year and after the Assembly failed to find a compromise on the flags row, Mandelson intervened and set up a consultation process. Sinn Féin proposed that both the Irish national flag should be flown alongside the Union Jack and if the unionists and British refused that proposal then no flag should fly.

With his legislation certain to go through the British parliament, it is clear that once again that Mandelson's unionionism has shone through.

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