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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Sinn Fein flag move rejected
Peter Mandelson
Former NI Secretary Peter Mandelson drafted regulations
A court has dismissed an attempt by Sinn Fein to prevent the flying of the Union Flag on certain days outside public buildings in Northern Ireland.

The ruling in the legal case against former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson on the flying of flags on government buildings was delivered in the High Court on Thursday.

Sinn Fein mounted a legal challenge to the Flags Order introduced by Mr Mandelson in November 2000 allowing the Union Flag to be flown on 17 designated days.

The party argued that the order was contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and discriminated against nationalists.

Bairbre de Brun
Bairbre de Brun: Refused to fly flag

Mr Justice Kerr, in his judgment, said that Mr Mandelson had acted lawfully and rejected the argument of Sinn Fein's counsel Seamus Tracey QC, that the secretary of state had struck a secret deal with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.

The judge said that Mr Mandelson was forced to intervene because the Northern Ireland executive had failed to reach an agreement on the flags issue.

Sinn Fein assembly member Conor Murphy sought a judicial review of Mr Mandelson's decision.

Outside court, Mr Murphy said he was not surprised by the decision.

"I suppose I should not be surprised that the British courts have upheld the decision by the secretary of state to continue to fly the Union Flag.

"We will continue to fight for equality for nationalists within this state until we get equality or until the state no longer exists," he said.

Designated days

Mr Murphy said that his party would study the judgment and consult its legal advisers before making a decision whether to appeal the court's decision.

However, Ulster Unionist Dermot Nesbitt welcomed the court ruling.

"It vindicates the people of Northern Ireland when they expressed in May 1998 that Northern Ireland is a region of the United Kingdom," he said.

"It vindicates international law and practice that when you're accommodating for diversity, like in Northern Ireland, you do so within the existing state."

The regulations were drafted after the failure of the province's power-sharing executive to agree a compromise on the issue.

This followed the refusal of Sinn Fein ministers Bairbre de Brun and Martin McGuinness to fly the flag on buildings occupied by their departments on designated days in the past.

The education and health ministers have said they want the Irish tricolour to fly alongside the Union Flag otherwise no flag should fly at all.

Designated days include the Queen's Official Birthday and Remembrance Sunday.

Unionists objected to aspects of Mr Mandelson's order because it did not allow for the flying of the Union Flag on 12 July, the traditional high point of the Protestant marching season.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's political correspondent Martina Purdy
"The court dismissed arguments over flag issue"
See also:

13 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein departments fly Union Flag
08 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Mandelson proposals over flag flying
08 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Committee to discuss flag flying
02 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
Tension over flag flying
02 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein criticised over flag stance
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