N. Ireland Politics

Reaching consensus on flags, culture and identity will be 'challenge', says joint chair of new commission

Union flag protester at Belfast City Hall Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The commission will look at ways of securing consensus around issues involving flags, culture and identity

The joint chair of a new Stormont body set up to examine flags, culture and identity has said it will be a "challenge" to reach consensus on some issues.

Dr Dominic Bryan will co-chair the 15 member panel with community relations worker Neville Armstrong.

The panel's make up has been criticised by the SDLP MLA Claire Hanna.

Seven members were appointed by political parties and 8 were drawn from a recruitment process.

Five of those on the new body have links to unionism and the body includes a former Alliance Party special adviser, a current SDLP adviser and a former Sinn Féin councillor.

Dr Katy Radford is the only woman on the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition.

Dr Bryan said he had no involvement in selecting the panel which he expected would meet "at least monthly".

Image caption Claire Hanna from the SDLP said there were questions about the make up of the panel

"What I hope we will start to do is come to some consensus on issues," he said.

"The end game here is not to produce something that ends up further creating division. We've got to try to find a way forward. Now as everybody knows, that is going to be challenging.

"We know that we have a divided society and it causes lots of problems, however, there's quite a lot that brings us together, there's quite a lot of positive stuff that goes on.

'Genuine intent'

"What I hope that we're able to do through this commission is to find ways in which we can foster positives, but also deal with some of the fundamental problems that we have."

Claire Hanna from the SDLP said there were questions about the make up of the panel.

She said: "You would naturally expect to see a more balanced representation of the views of the people in Northern Ireland. That there is not will make some question whether there is genuine intent in achieving a positive outcome. "

Image caption First Minister Arlene Foster said the commission would undertake a "very important programme of work"

The South Belfast MLA added: "We need confidence that sensible, rational ideas won't be shut down by one political outlook. To avoid any perception of unionist dominance the commission must demonstrate a fair, inclusive and balanced approach to the flying of flags"

'Diverse community'

Announcing the new body, First Minister, Arlene Foster said: "The commission will undertake a very important programme of work and I commend those who are taking an active role in shaping a Northern Ireland free from segregation and division."

The Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness said: "I welcome the establishment of this commission which will identify and acknowledge the opportunities of a diverse community in which cultural expression can be celebrated. We must develop a society which is open, tolerant and mutually respectful. This commission will contribute to this and pave the way for greater awareness and understanding of differing cultural identities."

Dr Bryan is a Queen's University academic who has previously researched the issue of flags across Northern Ireland.

The other members of the commission are: Doug Beattie, a UUP MLA, ex-DUP representative Ian Crozier, Richard Good a former Alliance Party adviser, Tom Hartley, a former Sinn Féin councillor in Belfast, Prof Thomas William Hennessey and Dr David Thomas Hume, who formerly worked for the Orange Order.

They will be joined by a former residents spokesman Donncha Mac Niallais, Nelson McCausland DUP MLA, ex-DUP MLA Ian McCrea, Dr Katy Radford , Mr David Anthony Robinson, Mukesh Sharma and Carl Whyte who is a SDLP adviser.

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