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The BBC's June Kelly
"In Northern Ireland symbols are all important"
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Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 02:30 GMT 03:30 UK
Consensus urged on NI flag issue
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson
Northern Ireland Secretary could be given final veto
The Northern Ireland Secretary will have the final say over the contentious issue of which flag should fly over public buildings in the province.

The measure was introduced in the Commons early on Wednesday morning, following disagreement between unionists and republicans over the flying of the Irish Tricolour alongside the Union Flag on assembly offices.

The Search for Peace
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The move is being seen as another measure to placate unionists as they decide whether to back the return of the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland following the IRA's pledge to put it arms out of use.

Peter Mandelson told the Commons he hoped ministers in the new devolved government which the government wants in place by 22 May, could reach a common position on the flag-flying issue.

But he said if they did not come to an agreement, he would be prepared to intervene and make his own decision on the issue.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said the displaying of emblems of Britishness in Northern Ireland did not contravene the Good Friday Agreement.

"As long as consistent with the GFA, symbols and emblems are used sensitively, and in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division, I see no difficulty in their use and my actions will be based on that view," he said.

Mr Mandelson said the aim of the Flag Northern Ireland 2000 Order was not to perpetuate such disputes but to "try and ensure they do not become a permanent source of division in the future".

He denied that Northern Ireland was on a "motorway out of the UK" and insisted the province had never had a better chance for peace after the IRA's offer to put its arms beyond use.

Flags and the peace process

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has still not announced whether he intends to recommend to his party, when they meet on Saturday, that they should re-enter the power-sharing executive with Sinn Fein.

John Taylor: Wants re-assurance of flags issue
The government has been attempting to reassure the Ulster Unionists on a return to power-sharing, as desired by nationalists and republicans.

But Ulster Unionist concern over the flags issue, change to the name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and fears that the IRA's recent offer to put its weapons beyond use in arms dumps to be inspected by international statesmen is not genuine, or does not go far enough, may make them reject the governments' plan to restart devolution.

The concern over flags was raised by Ulster Unionist deputy leader John Taylor who said he would not support the return of power-sharing without an assurance on the flying of the Union Flag on government buildings.

In response, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said both the Irish tricolour and the Union Flag should be flown alongside each other or that neither of the two flags should be flown.

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See also:

16 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Bill delays naming new NI police
16 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Unionists reject reassurance move
15 May 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA arms mission launched
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Unionists wary of IRA offer
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Adams: IRA not defeated
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Accept IRA statement Ahern urges
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Clinton hails IRA offer
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA arms offer
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA statement in full
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Governments outline agreement timetable
06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
The arms inspectors
08 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Arms inspections 'expected by summer'
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