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Declan Kearney: Flags and culture report needs to be published and implemented

Sinn Féin Executive Office Minister Declan Kearney

IN 2016 the Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) commission was formed with representatives of all five main parties to make recommendations on how to deal with these contested issues within our society.

The FICT report was finally presented to The Executive Office in July 2020. It is a comprehensive document containing 45 recommendations.

The FICT report does not provide all the solutions, challenges still remain.

But it offers a way forward on how issues at the heart of division in the north; cultural traditions and identities can be celebrated and commemorated, on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

Upon taking receipt of this report a working group including ministers and officials was formed. It reported to the full Executive in March 2021, and was tasked to submit recommendations for publication with an implementation plan by May this year.

Fulfilling that responsibility has been a consistent focus for me as an executive minister.

However, since then, for its own reasons, the DUP has resisted all attempts and subsequent deadlines to present a plan to the full Executive on implementation of the report's recommendations.

So here we are in the midst of November with no FICT report published, or the associated implementation plan sought by the full Executive.

This persistent DUP blockage is deeply frustrating. It shows disrespect to our community and is a failure of leadership.

I believe it makes sense to publish the FICT report with a plan of next steps. Implementation will require cross-departmental coordination.

The outcomes of this report will not be achieved by picking what is acceptable to some, but not to others. It needs to be owned by our power-sharing Executive and all sections of our community.

Implementation of the FICT report will be challenging. That's why producing an implementation plan is the correct thing to do. To do otherwise, risks pushing the report into a vacuum.

Perhaps that is what the DUP want.

There is already an established negative pattern within this Executive of the DUP acting as an outlier and opposing progressive social, health and economic measures from which wider society will benefit.

I want a positive approach adopted towards how we manage the issues of identity, culture and tradition which continue to cause division.

I want to see an inclusive, welcoming, multicultural society in the north with anti-sectarianism at its core.

We need leadership on issues of cultural equality and respect.

Sinn Féin is committed to real delivery on how to deal with Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition.

There is no point working so long and hard for this important report to be put on a shelf.

So despite DUP blockages Sinn Féin will continue working responsibly to achieve full publication of the FICT report, alongside a sensible implementation plan.

That is what positive leadership is about.

:: Declan Kearney is a Sinn Féin MLA for South Antrim and Junior Minister at the Executive Office.

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