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16 November 2000 Edition

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Mandelson has flag case to answer

Sinn Féin Equality spokesperson Michelle Gildernew, has welcomed the Belfast High Court decision last Thursday, 9 November, granting Sinn Féin Newry and Armagh Assembly member Conor Murphy leave to apply for a judicial review of Peter Mandelson's decision to issue regulations on the flying of flags over government buildings.

Gildernew, Assembly member for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, said: ``The flying of flags at government buildings is a matter for the Executive and Assembly, to be determined by consensus in line with principles agreed in the Good Friday Agreement. It is not a matter for Peter Mandelson.

``The Agreement recognises the sensitivity in the use of symbols and emblems and, in particular, the need in creating the new institutions to ensure that symbols are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division.

``The decision by the High Court to grant Sinn Féin leave to apply for a judicial review is evidence that Peter Mandelson has a legal case to answer over his decision to issue flag regulations when the Executive has yet to conclude on the issue.

``Instead of allowing agreement to be reached based on consensus in the Executive and Assembly, Peter Mandelson proceeded to exerecise powers he said he would not use except as a last resort. He did this shortly before the political institutions were restored in May and, significantly, only days before a confidence vote in David Trimble by his party.

``Peter Mandelson has proceeded on a biased basis. This is illustrated by the introduction of the Flags Order in advance of an Ulster Unionist Council meeting in May and the flag regulations now being introduced in advance of yet another UUC meeting this autumn. This is despite the Executive and Assembly not concluding on this issue.

``While Peter Mandelson says he had regard to the Good Friday Agreement, I do not believe that he gave any - or any sufficient - consideration to its meaning. The promotion of parity of esteem, equality and inclusion has taken second place in Peter Mandelson's priorities to shore up the party political position of David Trimble.''

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