Northern Ireland

Dr Dominic Bryan: NI flags commission's brief 'too big'

Thousands of people marching through Belfast city centre Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Thousands of people march through Belfast city centre one year on from the removal of the union flag from the Belfast city hall in 2012

The co-chair of the Stormont body set up to examine flags and identity has said he believes it was possibly given "too big a brief".

Prof Dominic Bryan oversees the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition.

It was set up in June 2016 and was due to report back within 18 months - but to date, it has not.

Mr Bryan said the collapse of Stormont had made the Commission's task much harder.

The Queen's University academic was speaking in his first interview since the commission began its work three years ago.

Questions have been raised recently about the future of the commission, given that it has cost almost £750,000 so far, but has failed to deliver its findings.

"Too big a brief"

Earlier this month, the Ulster Unionist representative on the commission, Doug Beattie said it had not been "value for money".

Prof Bryan told BBC's The View that the commission had not just taken on issues like flags and murals, but also language, identity, media and emblems within sport.

"We were also looking at a much wider issue, perhaps it was too big a brief."

He also said the commission is currently on pause, after meeting last week for the first time in six months.

The commission was set up by the executive office and has 15 members, seven were appointed by the political parties and eight were from a recruitment process.

Prof Bryan said the commission has 13 draft papers ready to go, and that while the commission had not produced a report yet, a lack of political leadership was stalling delivery.

"I don't think we're alone, there's a whole lot of stuff on pause. A lot of commissioners feel frustrated about where we are," he added.

Prof Bryan said the inclusion of issues that the commission had been looking at into the current Stormont talks process was "very frustrating" - but rejected suggestions that the talks had undercut the commission's progress.

"I don't think it undercut us because we need that process to work to take us forward," he added.

The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) was set up in June 2016 by the Executive Office in 2016 and tasked to come up with recommendations on how those issues, which are often the source of controversy in Northern Ireland can be tackled.

Just over six months later, power-sharing between the DUP and Sinn Féin collapsed.

The commission was meant to report back within 18 months, but has never finished its work.

Who heads the commission?

The FICT is jointly chaired by Mr Neville John Armstrong and Dr Dominic Paul Bryan.

Prof Bryan is a reader at the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queens University Belfast and lists his research as focusing upon the role played by symbols and rituals during the conflict and peace in Northern Ireland.

Prof Bryan's research centres upon Parades and Human Rights, Flags and the Symbolic Landscape, Belfast and Shared Space and Political Violence and Commemoration.

Why was the commission set up?

The commission was announced as part of the Fresh Start Agreement, negotiated by the Stormont parties in November 2015.

It was supposed to help the parties reach consensus on contentious issues surrounding flags, emblems and identity in Northern Ireland, and produce recommendations for the executive to take forward.

It began its work in June 2016, after its make-up was announced by the then first and deputy first ministers.

The commission has 15 members, seven members were appointed by political parties and eight were drawn from a recruitment process.

Five of those on the panel have links to unionism - it also includes a former Alliance Party special adviser, a former SDLP adviser and a former Sinn Féin councillor.

When is it likely to publish its report?

The Executive Office said publishing arrangements would be determined "once a report is agreed".

It is not clear if a final report would have to go to executive ministers first - something that could not happen until Stormont is restored.

But a former chairman of the Community Relations Council has called on the commission to publish its work now.

Peter Osborne, who is also an ex-chairman of the Parades Commission, said it needed to become a "public debate".

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