Northern Ireland flags issue

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The Northern Ireland flags issue is one that divides the population along sectarian lines. Depending on political allegiance, people identify with differing flags and symbols, some of which have, or have had, official status in Northern Ireland.

Common flags[edit]


The Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 prohibited the display of any flag which was "likely to cause a breach of public order", and gave the police powers to deal with it. However, it specifically excluded the Union flag from its provisions.[6] In 1964, the Royal Ulster Constabulary moved in to remove an Irish tricolour from the window of an office in Belfast, after Ian Paisley had publicly said that if they did not, he would do so personally. This resulted in serious rioting.[6] The Act was repealed in 1987.

In some loyalist areas the flying of flags supporting loyalist paramilitaries has proved controversial. Groups like the Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force, Young Citizen Volunteers, Red Hand Commando, and Loyalist Volunteer Force all have their own unique flags and although these flags usually appear alongside murals, they can occasionally be seen flying from lampposts in villages and towns or flying from houses in the run up to the Twelfth.

Some local councils have debated the usage of the Tricolour. In 2002 Belfast City Council displayed the Tricolour along with the Union Flag in the Lord Mayor's parlour during the term of Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Alex Maskey.[7] A different approach was taken in 1997; when the Social Democratic and Labour Party's (SDLP) Alban Maginness was Lord Mayor, neither flag was displayed. In September 2003, Belfast City Council discussed flying the Tricolour alongside the Union Flag on designated occasions.

The Ulster Banner continued to be used by some local governments, such as the predominantly unionist Castlereagh, which flew it outside its offices.[8]

A decision in December 2012 to fly the Union flag over Belfast City Hall only on certain designated days, instead of all the year round as previously, led to the Belfast City Hall flag protests, which included riots in which police officers were injured.[9]

The Northern Ireland flags controversy has led to Unicode being unable to release an equivalent country emoji for Northern Ireland, as it has for Scotland, England, Wales, and the Republic of Ireland.[10]

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 by the parties, included the idea of a new flag for Northern Ireland,[11] and the possibility of a "circumscribed role for the sovereign flag of Ireland in conjunction with the Union flag."[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000" (PDF). Northern Ireland Assembly. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  2. ^ The Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ "Northern Ireland". FIFA. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  5. ^ Commonwealth Games website Archived 23 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Choose "Northern Ireland" from the "Countries" menu.
  6. ^ a b Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Richard Jenkins, Flag, Nation and Symbolism in Europe and America, Routledge, 2007, ISBN 1134066961, p. 104
  7. ^ "Tricolour raised in City Hall". BBC. 4 September 2002. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  8. ^ Castlereagh (1 January 1970). "Castlereagh Borough Council, Northern Ireland". Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  9. ^ Belfast flag protests: Loyalists clash with police after rally, BBC, 8 December 2012
  10. ^ Dempsey, James (31 March 2017). "Why is there no Northern Irish flag in the new Emoji update?". News Talk. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  11. ^ Haass proposes new body to investigate Troubles killings, Irish Times, 16 December 2013
  12. ^ 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

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