Northern Ireland

Stormont flags debate is no light matter

Stormont Parliament Buildings
Image caption Sinn Fein has called for a debate on the flying of the Irish tricolour at Stormont

As I concluded an interview this morning with a unionist assembly member, some of the lights in Stormont's Great Hall began to flicker on and off.

The DUP's Peter Weir and I had been discussing his opposition to the flying of the Irish flag.

We assumed it was the staff testing the lights, but when we asked them to stop for a moment while we finished filming, it turned out that no one was touching the lights.

"It's the ghosts," joked one of them.

"Perhaps Lord Carson is sending a message to you. He was after all born in Dublin," I teased Mr Weir.

The DUP man laughed, but he was not for turning on the flags issue.

The DUP position is clear, unionists have already compromised on the flying of the flag by agreeing to the Flags Order (2000) a decade ago.

This allows for the flying of the Union Flag over public buildings such as Stormont on 17 designated days, including the Queen's official birthday.

So when Sinn Fein calls for a "mature" debate on the flying of the tricolour at Stormont, it may be all nationalists will get.

'Willing to listen'

The fact that the DUP is willing to discuss the issue at the Assembly Commission is noteworthy.

There was a time when such a suggestion would have caused a furore.

Now, confident in the power to block such a change at the commission, unionism is willing to listen.

There may even be another compromise; no Irish flag at Stormont but perhaps a few symbols around Parliament Buildings, so nationalists feel more at home.

The point of the nationalist demand is not to win this time.

It is about striking a proverbial, rather peaceful blow, reminding their supporters that they are still pressing the case.

Outside on the estate, I spoke to a few visitors about the issue.

The strongest view came from one man out for his walk.

But even he was rather mild, his response; "It's a bit soon, isn't it?"

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