Ards and North Down Borough Council to fly union flag 'permanently' at sites following equality impact assessment
A COUNCIL is to increase the flying of the union flag at public spaces after getting the green light following an equality impact assessment.
Ards and North Down Borough Council initially agreed the decision last April following a TUV proposal, and following a "call-in" process to trigger an assessment the local authority is to fly the flag permanently at its Church Street building in Newtownards and at the borough's 13 war memorials.
A previous policy agreed three years ago had the union flag flown permanently at seven designated sites and for 15 days per year at Church Street.
At the recent meeting of the full council, unionist and independent representatives replicated the vote, after the TUV's Stephen Cooper again proposed the increase in flag flying, while Alliance, the Green Party, and the SDLP opposed the amendment.
The EQIA report referred to a survey of council staff and the public that had "relatively low return rates, and so cannot be relied upon to be representative of the respective populations as a whole".
The report states: "The overwhelming majority of respondents to the public survey (85.1 percent) felt that the Union flag should fly all year round at Church Street, while 84.7 percent felt that the Union Flag should fly permanently at war memorials.
"Not surprisingly, and in common with previous surveys, community background emerged as a highly significant predictor of attitudes towards this issue, with Protestant respondents and those who identified as British being overwhelmingly supportive of the proposed policy, while Roman Catholic respondents largely rejected the proposal and most especially with regard to flying the Union flag permanently at Church Street.
"Among staff, levels of support for the flying of the Union flag permanently at Church Street were less strong than among the general public. While 42 percent agreed that it should fly permanently, an equal number (42 percent) stated that it should only fly on designated days, and 16 percent never.
"Over half of all staff who responded (58 percent) showed support for either no flags or designated days only, and this figure included all Roman Catholic respondents."
Mr Cooper said: "The anomaly is only Church Street, the rest of our council buildings have the union flag flying 365, adding: "I hope all people can respect the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland to stay within the United Kingdom and fly our national flag."
SDLP councillor Joe Boyle said it was recognised that any increase in the flying of the union flag on council premises "may create a potential chill factor" for many using council facilities.
He added: "To unravel our policy would be to seriously contradict our thinking that we are an open, welcoming, progressive borough to visit, to live, and to do business in. Are we really trying to sell and market this thing to the public?"