Flag of Northern Ireland

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The only official flag for Northern Ireland is the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom; there is no official local flag that represents only Northern Ireland.[1][2][3][4] The flying of various flags in Northern Ireland is a significant sectarian issue, with different communities identifying with different flags.[5]

The Ulster Banner was used by the Northern Ireland government from 1953 until the government and parliament were abolished in 1973. Since then, it has had no official status.[6][7][8][9] However, it is still used as the flag of Northern Ireland by both loyalists and unionists[10][11] and to represent Northern Ireland internationally in some sporting competitions.

The Saint Patrick's Saltire represents Northern Ireland indirectly as Ireland in the Union Flag. It is sometimes flown during Saint Patrick's Day parades in Northern Ireland[12] and is used to represent Northern Ireland during some royal events.[13]

In recent years, there have been calls for a new, neutral flag for Northern Ireland,[14][15] most recently as a recommendation by the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition in December 2021.[16]

Flag of the Government of Northern Ireland (1924–1973)[edit]

The Ulster Banner, also known as the "Red Hand Flag" or the "Ulster Flag" (not to be confused with the provincial Flag of Ulster), was the flag that was granted a royal warrant for use to the Government of Northern Ireland in 1924. In common with other British flags, any civic status of the flag was not defined in law.[17]

The Government of Northern Ireland was granted arms (the Coat of arms of Northern Ireland) by Royal Warrant and had the right to display these arms on a flag or banner. This right was exercised for the Coronation in 1953 when the banner was flown for the first time over Parliament Buildings in honour of the Queen's visit. Also during the Queen's visit, on July 1, 1953, the Minister for Home Affairs announced that, while the Union flag was the only standard officially recognised, those who wished to have a distinctive Ulster symbol might use the banner.[18] When the Parliament of Northern Ireland was dissolved by the British government under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, the flag ceased to be used by a body with a royal warrant but remains the only flag to date which represents Northern Ireland at international level in sport.[17]

Since the Northern Ireland government and parliament were abolished in 1972, the use of the Ulster Banner among loyalists has increased.[19][20]

Official use of flags[edit]

There are various practices for the flying of flags by public bodies in Northern Ireland. The Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) Order 2000 requires that the Union Flag be flown over specified government buildings including Parliament Buildings and state offices on specified "named days" (honouring, for example Queen Elizabeth II's official birthday).

The regulations also provide that, on the occasion of a visit to a government building by the British Monarch, the Royal Standard shall be flown and the Union Flag can be flown, and on state visits from other heads of state the Union Flag and the national flag of the country of the visitor can be flown. The regulations prohibit any flags being flown from the relevant buildings except as expressly permitted by the regulations.[21][22]

When flags representing the "Home Countries" of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are flown at official ceremonies, Northern Ireland is sometimes represented by the St. Patrick's Cross, for instance on the barge Gloriana during the 2012 Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.[23] In May 2016 the Ulster Banner was flown from horseback during the Musical Ride of the Household Cavalry at The Queen's 90th Birthday Celebration at Windsor, alongside the flags of England, Scotland and Wales.[24][25][26]

Other regulations exist for other public bodies in Northern Ireland. Use of flags by the Police Service of Northern Ireland is governed by the Police Emblems and Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002, which provides that no flag shall be used by the Service other than its own flag.

Local authorities[edit]

Legislation relating to flag flying does not apply to District Council buildings, and District Councils follow a range of practices varying from flying the Union Flag on a number of council buildings every day of the year as at Lisburn, to flying no flags on any building, flying only the council flag or flying flags on the designated days in the same way as government buildings.[27]

In 2004, Belfast City Council commissioned a study on the flying of the Union Flag which noted that the Ulster Banner was flown alongside it by three unionist-controlled district councils at that time: Ards Borough Council, Carrickfergus Borough Council and Castlereagh Borough Council.[28] These councils have since been replaced.

Displaying flags[edit]

In Northern Ireland, some members from each of the unionist and nationalist communities use flags to declare their political allegiances and to mark territory.[5] Unionists and loyalists fly the Union Flag and Ulster Banner to show their support for the union and/or their allegiance to Northern Ireland. Irish nationalists and republicans fly the Irish tricolour to show their support for a United Ireland.[29]

After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, flags continue to be a source of disagreement in Northern Ireland. The Agreement states that:

All participants acknowledge the sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes, and the need in particular in creating the new institutions to ensure that such symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division.[30]

Nationalists pointed to this to argue that the use of the Union Flag for official purposes should be restricted, or that the Irish tricolour should be flown alongside the British flag on government buildings. Sinn Féin ministers in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive instructed that the Union Flag was not to fly from buildings operated by their respective departments.[31] This power was removed from ministers by virtue of the Flag Regulations (Northern Ireland) Order 2000, mentioned above.

All signatories to the Belfast Agreement also declare their acceptance of the "principle of consent" (i.e. that there will be no change to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland unless a majority votes for it), and Unionists argued that this provision amounts to recognising that the Union Flag is the only legitimate official flag in Northern Ireland.[citation needed] The problem was discussed in detail and various proposals made including suggestions for a new flag.[32]

Flag proposals[edit]

Haass talks[edit]

In 2013, US diplomat Richard Haass chaired talks between the political parties in Northern Ireland dealing with, among other things, the issue of flags. The resulting draft proposals, which were not agreed to by the parties, included the idea of a new flag for Northern Ireland,[33] and the possibility of a "circumscribed role for the sovereign flag of Ireland in conjunction with the Union flag."[34]

Proposed "Civic Flag"[edit]

In December 2021, the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) published its final report which included a recommendation that a new "Civic Flag for Northern Ireland" should be adopted and be flown at buildings of the Northern Ireland Executive, Northern Ireland Assembly and local district councils in Northern Ireland. The commissions suggested that the design for the new flag should incorporate expressions of Britishness and Irishness and should also represent the diversity of the community in Northern Ireland.[35][36][16] However, it was only floated as a possibility, with no apparent political will to explore the idea further.

International sport[edit]

The Ulster Banner is used to represent the Northern Ireland team at the Commonwealth Games,[37][38] to represent golfers on the PGA Tour,[39] and by FIFA to represent the Northern Ireland national football team.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Minahan, James (2009). The Complete Guide to National Symbols and Emblems. ABC-CLIO. p. 486. ISBN 9780313344978. The official flag of the province is the Union Jack. There is no official national flag of Northern Ireland, following the Northern Ireland Constitution Act of 1973, nor any unofficial flag universally accepted in Northern Ireland.
  2. ^ McCormick, John (2012). Contemporary Britain. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 53. The old flag of Northern Ireland – a red hand inside a white star on a red cross – has strong connections with the Protestant community, and is no longer official but is still occasionally flown. The official flag of Northern Ireland is the Union Flag.
  3. ^ McCartney, Clem (1994). Clashing Symbols?: A Report on the Use of Flags, Anthems and Other National Symbols in Northern Ireland. Queen's University of Belfast. pp. 150–151. ISBN 9780853895381. In December 1986 the Northern Ireland Office produced an Explanatory Document on the [Flags and Emblems Act], which stated: [...] "Repeal of the Act would make no change whatsoever to the position that the Union flag is the official flag of Northern Ireland as it is of the United Kingdom as a whole'.
  4. ^ "Northern Ireland (United Kingdom)". Flags of the World.
  5. ^ a b Dominic Bryan & Gordon Gillespie (2005) Transforming Conflict: Flags and Emblems, Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University Belfast
  6. ^ "Ulster". Flag Institute. The Ulster flag is different from the Ulster Banner, which was the former flag of Northern Ireland but now holds no official status.
  7. ^ Paul Nolan and Dominic Bryan (2016). Flags: Towards a New Understanding (PDF). Queen's University Belfast. p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 April 2016. Retrieved 30 May 2016. following the Northern Ireland Constitution Act of 1973, the Ulster Banner ceased to have any official standing, but there followed a huge increase in its unofficial use as a symbol of loyalism.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  8. ^ Promoting Fair Play in Sport. Sport Northern Ireland. p. 9. Archived 7 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine "Many existing flags have no official status and this includes the former Northern Ireland ‘flag’ (or flag of the Executive Committee of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland or Ulster Banner)".
  9. ^ "Northern Ireland Executive: Flags". TheyWorkForYou. Hansard. 14 May 2007. Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: 'The Ulster flag and the Cross of St. Patrick have no official status and under the Flags Regulations are not permitted to be flown from Government Buildings'.
  10. ^ Flags Monitoring Project 2006: Preliminary Findings Queen's University, Belfast. p.25. "The meaning attached by people to these regional flags can vary. This is particularly true of the Northern Ireland or Ulster flag which would have been extensively used by loyalists since 1972. Also, it has no official status as a flag for Northern Ireland."
  11. ^ "Flags used in Northern Ireland". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). this particular flag of Northern Ireland is seen as staunchly Loyalist
  12. ^ Groom, Nick (2007). "Union Jacks and Union Jills". In Eriksen, Thomas Hylland; Jenkins, Richard (eds.). Flag, Nation and Symbolism in Europe and America. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 68–87. ISBN 978-0-415-44404-0. LCCN 2007018505. OCLC 123968978. OL 9353071W.
  13. ^ Bartram, Graham (2012). "A Visual Guide to the Flags used in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant" (PDF). Flag Institute. p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 November 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  14. ^ "New Northern Ireland flag should be created, says Lord Kilclooney". The News Letter. 17 December 2013. Archived from the original on 24 June 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2016. Lord Kilclooney, the former Ulster Unionist deputy leader, is a vice chairman of Westminsters all-party group on flags and heraldry which promotes the flying of the Union Flag. He told the News Letter […] ‘whilst England (St George’s Cross) Scotland (St Andrew’s Cross) and Wales (The Dragon) have individual regional flags, the Flags Institute in London confirms that Northern Ireland has no official regional flag’.
  15. ^ "Find a neutral flag for all of Northern Ireland: Richard Haass issues challenge to parties". Belfast Telegraph. 3 December 2013.
  16. ^ a b "Flags report: Five things we learned from 168-page document". BBC News. 4 December 2021.
  17. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica says: "According to British tradition, a coat of arms or flag is granted to the government of a territory, not to the people residing there. Therefore, when the government of Northern Ireland was disbanded in March 1972, its arms and flag officially disappeared; however, the flag continues to be used by groups (such as sports teams) representing the territory in sport."
  18. ^ McCartney, Clem & Bryson, Lucy. Clashing Symbols? A report on the use of flags, anthems and other national symbols in Northern Ireland. The Institute for Irish Studies, Queen's University of Belfast, 1994, p. 42 ISBN 085-389-538-4
  19. ^ Morris, Ewan (2005). Our Own Devices: National Symbols and Political Conflict in Twentieth-century Ireland (New Directions in Irish History). Irish Academic Press Ltd. p. 205. ISBN 978-0716533375. The main change to the use of symbols within the unionist community in recent decades has been the growing popularity of the Northern Ireland flag since the early 1970s when it came into widespread use by loyalists who felt that they had been betrayed by the government at Westminster. The increasing use of the Northern Ireland flag has sometimes been seen as symptomatic of a growing sense of Ulster nationality...
  20. ^ Ward, Paul (15 April 2004). Britishness Since 1870. Routledge. p. 166. ISBN 978-0415220170. From the early 1970s some unionists have sought increasingly to stress their identity with Ulster [...] Since the 1970s the use of the Northern Ireland flag has become prominent, further emphasising the desire to stress an Ulster identity.
  21. ^ "The Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000". Opsi.gov.uk. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  22. ^ "NI to lose a designated day for flying the Union flag". BBC News. 26 July 2018. Retrieved 2 August 2021.
  23. ^ Bartram, Graham (2012). "A Visual Guide to the Flags used in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant" (PDF). The Flag Institute. p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 November 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  24. ^ "The Queen's 90th Birthday Celebration - Sunday 15 May 8.35pm - The ITV Hub". 19 May 2016. Archived from the original on 19 May 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  25. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "YouTube Mirror". YouTube. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  26. ^ The Queen's 90th Birthday Celebration, Souvenir Programme, Regal Press Ltd, 2016, p. 12, ISBN 9781906670405
  27. ^ Transforming Conflict: Flags and Emblems by Dominic Bryan and Gordon Gillespie, Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University, Belfast, March 2005
  28. ^ Belfast City Council (May 2004), Flying of the Union Flag: An Equality Impact Assessment. Archived 15 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ The National Flag, Department of the Taoiseach
  30. ^ Belfast Agreement, section: "Economic, Social and Cultural Issues", para. 5
  31. ^ "BBC News - NORTHERN IRELAND - Tension over flag flying". News.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  32. ^ Flagging concern: the controversy over flags and emblems Archived 10 April 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ Haass proposes new body to investigate Troubles killings, Irish Times, 16 December 2013
  34. ^ John Mulgrew, "Final draft on dealing with Northern Ireland's past released after failure on agreement", Belfast Telegraph, 31 December 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2014
  35. ^ https://www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/execoffice/commission-on-fict-final-report.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  36. ^ "New Northern Ireland 'civic flag' considered as officials debate cultural future". December 2021.
  37. ^ "Northern Ireland | Commonwealth Games Federation". thecgf.com. Archived from the original on 20 April 2019.
  38. ^ "Telegraph". Archived from the original on 6 April 2008.
  39. ^ "Rory McIlroy PGA TOUR Profile - News, Stats, and Videos". PGATour. PGA Tour. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  40. ^ Northern Ireland: Country information, FIFA.com

External links[edit]