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The BBC's Tom Coulter
"The flying of flags has been a controversial topic for many years"
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Friday, 2 June, 2000, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Tension over flag flying
Stormont flag
All eyes are on where the Union flag will be flown
Northern Ireland's political parties will monitor public buildings to see if the Union Flag is being flown on Friday to mark the 47th anniversary of the Queen's coronation.

The flying of flags has become an emotive and divisive issue between republicans and unionists and is set to test the unity of pro-agreement parties within the Stormont assembly.

Sinn Fein say the flag of the Irish Republic, the tricolour, should be flown alongside the Union Jack outside public buildings.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson will have to make a final ruling on the issue if local ministers are unable to resolve their differences.

Education and health ministers Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brun of Sinn Fein banned the Union Flag from the public buildings they were in charge of during the last short-lived devolved administration.

There is no doubt about the very strong feelings that exist on this

David Trimble
That angered unionists, who regarded the move as an attack on their Britishness and on Northern Ireland's place within the UK.

Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey believes the Union Flag should be flown.

"Our problem of course, is firstly, the flying of the Union Flag is a legitimate expression of the consent principle.

"The Union Flag is a constitutional symbol, it flies by custom and practice on, I think, 13 days per annum.

"The denial by Sinn Fein ministers of that principle and, in effect, refusing to allow the Union Flag to fly over their departments, is in our view, a denial of the consent principle - the basic building block of the agreement."

However, Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said the Good Friday Agreement allowed for parity of esteem.

"The two Sinn Fein ministers did not refuse to fly (the flag), they said the Union Flag should not be flown alone from any department buildings under their jurisdiction," he said.

He claimed the agreement provided for such a scenario in that it created "new institutions to ensure that symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division".

Flag fluttering
The flying of flags: An agreed strategy remains elusive
A tense debate on the issue at Thursday's executive committee meeting failed to agree a common strategy, with a decision left up to individual ministers.

Ulster Unionist Party leader and Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble said: "There is no doubt about the very strong feelings that exist on this".

"It would be a good thing if we could resolve the issue ourselves.

"If ministers proceed to act in a way which gives rise to hurt and concern in the community, it's going to make it more difficult."

The first full meeting of the assembly since devolution was restored is due to take place on Monday.

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27 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Mixed reaction to devolution vote
27 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Returning to power
27 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Unionists back power-sharing
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