Northern Ireland

Stormont: Flags body to submit delayed report within weeks

Image caption The commission's work was stalled shortly after it began, due to the collapse of the power-sharing executive in January 2017

The panel set up by Stormont to examine flags and identity is to submit its delayed report in the next fortnight, BBC News NI understands.

The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) was established in June 2016.

It was meant to report back to the executive within 18 months, but its work stalled when devolution collapsed.

Its findings are now due to be sent to the first and deputy first ministers for consideration in mid-July.

It is understood that a report, running to approximately 150 pages, has been drawn up, which will make recommendations across a range of areas relating to issues that have long caused division in Northern Ireland.

However, it is not yet clear when any final report could be made public after it is signed off by the executive.

Last year, BBC News NI revealed the body had cost more than £730,000, with more than half of that figure spent on fees and expenses for its members.

The co-chairman of the panel, Prof Dominic Bryan, later said he believed it had been given "too big a brief".

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) representative on the commission, Doug Beattie, also said it had not been "value for money".

The commission has 15 members, seven of whom were appointed by the political parties while eight were employed through a recruitment process.

It paused its work in late 2018, and agreed not to meet again until the assembly was restored.

It resumed its work in January 2020 and had initially been asked to finish its work by 10 April, but the executive said the ability of the commission to meet that deadline had been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Image caption The commission was announced as part of the Fresh Start Agreement

Who heads the commission?

The FICT is jointly chaired by community relations worker Neville Armstrong and Prof Dominic Bryan.

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

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.

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.

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