Maskey unveils tricolour in Lord Mayor's parlour

The issue of the use of flags in civic buildings returned today when Sinn Fein's Lord Mayor of Belfast Alex Maskey placed an Irish national flag beside the Union flag in the lord mayor's parlour.

Speaking before the event, Mr Maskey said: "I intend to place the Irish national flag alongside the Union flag in the mayor's office and by doing so I hope to give expression to parity of esteem by treating both flags and the communities they represent with equal respect."

As Mr Maskey set up the flag this morning, the move divided two former Lord Mayor's of Belfast, who not unsurprisingly followed party lines on the issue.

The SDLP's Alban Maginness, who in 1997 became the first nationalist lord mayor of the city, broadly welcomed the move saying Mr Maskey has acted "very moderately" and "reasonably". During his own tenure, Mr Maginness had removed the Union flag from the lord mayor's office because he wanted to create "an atmosphere of political neutrality".

"What he has done is bring the tricolour in, he has not removed the Union flag and he is respectful of the unionist tradition by keeping the flag. I think that is not an unreasonable position because he is recognising both political traditions in a sensitive manner and I think that he should be congratulated on that rather criticised," said Mr Maginness.

However, the DUP's Nigel Dodds – who served twice as lord mayor in 1988 and 1991 – expressed his bitter opposition to the move.

"Do not underestimate the anger there will be throughout Belfast and the entire community at the move by Sinn Fein/IRA," he said.

"The fundamental point about all this is that we are part of the United Kingdom, this is the capital city of Northern Ireland, one of the regions of the United Kingdom, there is one country, there is one flag of that country. We are not in a joint sovereignty position and if Alex Maskey is so fond of the tricolour why doesn't he become mayor of Dublin."

In September 2000, then Secretary of State Peter Mandelson was forced to make a ruling on the flying of flags over government and civic buildings. His proposals outlined the flying of the Union flag on 17 days of the year.

However, as the Lord Mayor's parlour is a private office in the City Hall it is a matter of personal choice for the incumbent on which flags are displayed in the parlour.


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