Sophie AUMAILLEYCommision FICT: Stepping forwards to non-sectarian expressions of culture
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
24 November 2016

The membership of a new Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition was announced on 17 June 2016 by The Executive Office of Northern Ireland, to research issues on flags and culture, and to make recommendations within the next 18 months.

In an interview with the joint chair of the Commission, Dr Dominic Bryan, their forthcoming report is planned to be significant.

He believes that recommendations made by the Commission will be “difficult to ignore by politicians” and could lead to a step forwards in dealing with cultural issues.

Bryan emphasises the diversity of its fifteen members, who are coming from both political and non-political arenas.

When interviewed, Peter Osborne, chair of the Community Relations Council, welcomed the Commission and hoped for a more open and broad discussion on these issues.

He thinks the debate should be re-contextualised out of the Belfast Flag protests, and that attention should be drawn to the complexity of local dynamics.

Osborne assumed that the research and negotiation process of the Commission is part of the overall peace process in Northern Ireland.

He affirmed that further steps are needed in this long-term matter of conflict transformation.

What is innovative with this new Commission is the series of consultations as part of its research method.

The idea is to gather the views of all people willing to have a say on this often contentious matter.

In this way, the group Regenerate Portadown is presented as a positive example, with its local, community-led protocol for flags.

A challenge for the Commission is to connect local initiatives, as well as to develop regional guidelines of good practices surrounding the expression of culture.

The Commission is running public consultations presently, to raise debate and awareness about cultural issues.

The next public debates’ dates can be found at the Commission’s website.

Importantly, the Commission does not reject flags and emblems as inherently wrong, but is seeking to develop good practices around the expression of culture.

This effort is not about diluting culture, but about identifying what is acceptable in terms of the flying of flags and what can be defined as a reasonable practice.

This will require a recognition of a diverse community, and the need to create the conditions for a non-sectarian expression of culture.

Yet recommendations that could be stipulated by the Commission are limited by their real impact at the grass-root level.

As such, educational programmes about good practices and respect owed to flags seem necessary.

The Commission presents itself as a means of stepping forward in solving issues about symbols and flags in Northern Ireland.

It shows a willingness of the Executive to tackle these problems with a deeper understanding of the issues thanks to broader understanding of them and the stimulation of creative solutions.

The answers to these problems will need to be articulated in an inclusive, innovative and sensitive way.

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