13 September 2000 Edition

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Mandelson plays unionist card on flags issue

New proposals for the flying of flags announced by the British secretary of state last week are against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement which provides for symbols to be displayed on the basis of equality or neutrality, says Sinn Féin.

The draft regulations proposed by Peter Mandelson would require the British Union Jack to fly alone or alongside the European flag above the departments of all the Assembly ministers on 17 designated days. No other flags would be permitted, including the Tricolour, except during visits by other heads of state.

The proposals follow unionist lobbying, including a letter from David Trimble to Peter Mandelson demanding that Sinn Féin ministers be forced to fly the union flag at the Departments of Education and Health.

``This is another issue where the goal posts are under threat of being moved at the behest of the UUP,'' said Mitchel McLaughlin. ``This is all part of the general effort to U-turn out of a new beginning back into a failed and untenable status quo.''

For nationalists, the British union flag is a symbol of foreign domination, the imposition of partition and the denial of democracy to the Irish people. It represents generations of injustice, oppression, inequality, discrimination and violence. The British flag has been used by unionism as a symbol of political dominance and a tool of sectarian coat-trailing.

``The norms applied to the flying of flags at Government buildings in Britain are not appropriate to the north of Ireland,'' said McLaughlin, ``the north of Ireland is not ``as British as Finchley''.

The Good Friday Agreement not only recognises the importance of a new beginning in relation to symbols and emblems but also envisages change which will ``promote mutual respect rather than division''.

``Where British cultural symbols are involved in public life, equivalent Irish cultural and political symbols should be given equal prominence,'' said McLaughlin. ``A reasonable alternative would be to suspend the flying of flags until a consensus can be found. The position on the flying of flags at government and public buildings should be an equality scenario or a neutral scenario.''

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