O’Loan: Council flags fly in the face of equal treatment

12 01 2012

SDLP Councillor Declan O’Loan has strongly criticised the decision by Ballymena Borough Council to continue its practice of flying the Union flag on all days of the year and to place flags and a picture of the Queen in the Council Chamber and the Mayor’s Parlour.
He said “I very much regret that this majority decision was pushed through by the Unionist parties. In many meetings and private conversations the SDLP tried to persuade them that symbolism using only the Council crest would demonstrate to all residents that the Council regarded them all equally. In particular, the Council Chamber as the central decision space of the Council, should be entirely neutral in character. We suggested compromises which would have shown respect for the history of the Council but which would have marked a clear new beginning. Unfortunately these were rejected.”
“I am particularly concerned that the Council acted against legal advice. That legal advice said that that flying the Union flag externally on days other than those designated in the Flags Regulations carried a significant risk of legal challenge, and that the display of the Ulster flag is especially problematic and incurs a high risk of successful legal challenge. That is why I presented amendments which addressed these points. These were rejected. That matter may well now be tested in the Courts and Councillors who supported the Council decision may end up being surcharged.”
“I am also concerned also that legal advice told the Council that it is in stark breach of a obligation to agree an Equality Policy with the Arts Council following a £2 million grant for The Braid complex which contains the Council Chamber and the Mayor’s Parlour. I regret that this decision has been taken without the consent of the Arts Council. That could lead to the grant being clawed back.”
“This has been a wasted opportunity for a Council which has made great progress in recent years towards giving united civic leadership. Sadly on the traditional issue of flags, that progress has not continued.”