Leading article

Consensus possible over symbols

It is depressing that, after all the political advances since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, some loyalists and nationalists still insist on marking out what they regard as their territory through the public display of various unauthorised flags.

Extensive efforts have been made in many districts to reduce and even entirely remove symbols which are plainly intended to intimidate one or other section of our divided society, and some progress has been achieved.

Unfortunately, legal uncertainties and the reluctance of the statutory authorities to intervene mean that provocative emblems which have often been erected by a mere handful of individuals remain in place almost indefinitely in particular neighbourhoods.

Resolving the issue will not be easy, but ordinary people, regardless of their political and religious background, are entitled to expect that a neutral environment will at least be maintained in the centre of our main towns and cities.

In this context, the developments which we have reported over recent days as part of a comprehensive upgrading scheme at Magherafelt in Co Derry will be widely noted.

A pole which has prominently flown a Union flag in the Diamond area of the mainly nationalist town for decades has finally been taken down and is not included in the new design.

The regeneration project was the result of detailed consultations between business and community groups, and will be generally regarded as a firm step in the right direction.

An entirely separate debate has taken place over the flying of flags on some civic buildings, and, after a period of upheaval, the result has been a reasonable compromise involving the designated days recommended by Buckingham Palace.

It should not be too much to hope that we can all look forward to reaching a consensus over symbols which is in the best interests of our entire population.

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