The Northern Ireland flags issue is one that divides the population along sectarian lines. Depending on political allegiance, people identify with differing flags and symbols, some of which have, or have had, official status in Northern Ireland.

Common flags


The Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 prohibited the display of any flag which was "likely to cause a breach of public order", and gave the police powers to deal with it. However, it specifically excluded the Union Jack from its provisions.[8] In 1956, the Stormont Minister of Affairs, George Hanna, banned an Irish Nationalist cultural demonstration planned for the annual Feis at Newtownbutler, County Fermanagh. The march proceeded anyway, and in response the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) launched a baton charge to seize a banner depicting Patrick Pearse but were unsuccessful. Police attempted a second baton charge which also failed and then resorted to using fire hoses against the crowds. Several people were injured during the disturbances, at least one seriously. The RUC had removed three Irish tricolours from the home of a parish priest during the previous year's Feis.[9] In 1964, the RUC moved in to remove an Irish tricolour from the window of an office in Belfast, after Ian Paisley had publicly said that if they did not, he would do so personally. This resulted in serious rioting.[8] The Act was repealed in 1987.

In some loyalist areas, the flying of flags supporting loyalist paramilitaries has proved controversial. Groups like the Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force, Young Citizen Volunteers, Red Hand Commando, and Loyalist Volunteer Force all have their own unique flags and although these flags usually appear alongside murals, they can occasionally be seen flying from lampposts in villages and towns or flying from houses in the run-up to the Twelfth.

After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, flags continue to be a source of disagreement in Northern Ireland. The Agreement states that:

All participants acknowledge the sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes, and the need in particular in creating the new institutions to ensure that such symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division.[10]

Some local councils have debated the usage of the Tricolour. In 2002 Belfast City Council displayed the Tricolour along with the Union Flag in the Lord Mayor's parlour during the term of Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Alex Maskey.[11] A different approach was taken in 1997; when the Social Democratic and Labour Party's (SDLP) Alban Maginness was Lord Mayor, neither flag was displayed. In September 2003, Belfast City Council discussed flying the Tricolour alongside the Union Flag on designated occasions.

In June 2007 the designated nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party complained about an artist's rendering of IKEA Belfast that included both the Union Flag and the Ulster Banner flag as two of the three flags in front of the store. After being labelled "an upmarket Orange hall" by the party, IKEA assured customers and co-workers that only the Swedish flag would be seen outside the actual store.[12]

The Ulster Banner continued to be used by some local governments, such as the predominantly unionist Castlereagh, which flew it outside its offices.[13]

A decision in December 2012 to fly the Union flag over Belfast City Hall only on certain designated days, instead of all the year round as previously, led to the Belfast City Hall flag protests, which included riots in which police officers were injured.[14]

The Northern Ireland flags controversy has led to Unicode being unable to release an equivalent country emoji for Northern Ireland, as it has for Scotland, England, and Wales.[15]

Flag proposals

Haass talks

In 2013, US diplomat Richard Haass chaired talks between the political parties in Northern Ireland dealing with, among other things, the issue of flags. The resulting draft proposals, which were not agreed to by the parties, included the idea of a new flag for Northern Ireland,[16] and the possibility of a "circumscribed role for the sovereign flag of Ireland in conjunction with the Union flag."[17]

Proposed "Civic Flag"

In December 2021, the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) published its final report which included a recommendation that a new "Civic Flag for Northern Ireland" should be adopted and be flown at buildings of the Northern Ireland Executive, Northern Ireland Assembly and local district councils in Northern Ireland. The commissions suggested that the design for the new flag should incorporate expressions of Britishness and Irishness and should also represent the diversity of the community in Northern Ireland.[18][19][20]

See also


  1. ^ "The Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000" (PDF). Northern Ireland Assembly. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 August 2011. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  2. ^ The Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica says: According to British tradition, a coat of arms or flag is granted to the government of a territory, not to the people residing there
  4. ^ "Northern Ireland". FIFA. Archived from the original on 14 June 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  5. ^ Commonwealth Games website Archived 23 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Choose "Northern Ireland" from the "Countries" menu.
  6. ^ Groom, Nick (2007). "Union Jacks and Union Jills". In Eriksen, Thomas Hylland; Jenkins, Richard (eds.). Flag, Nation and Symbolism in Europe and America. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 68–87. ISBN 978-0-415-44404-0. LCCN 2007018505. OCLC 123968978. OL 9353071W.
  7. ^ Bartram, Graham (2012). "A Visual Guide to the Flags used in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant" (PDF). Flag Institute. p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 November 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  8. ^ a b Thomas Hylland Eriksen; Richard Jenkins (2007). Flag, Nation and Symbolism in Europe and America. Routledge. p. 104. ISBN 978-1-134-06696-4.
  9. ^ "RUC baton-charge Feis crowd at Newtownbutler", The Derry Journal, 25 July 1955.
  10. ^ Belfast Agreement, section: "Economic, Social and Cultural Issues", para. 5
  11. ^ "Tricolour raised in City Hall". BBC. 4 September 2002. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  12. ^ "No Union flag at new Ikea store". BBC News. 12 June 2007. Retrieved 9 August 2007.
  13. ^ Castlereagh (1 January 1970). "Castlereagh Borough Council, Northern Ireland". Google Maps. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  14. ^ Belfast flag protests: Loyalists clash with police after rally, BBC, 8 December 2012
  15. ^ Dempsey, James (31 March 2017). "Why is there no Northern Irish flag in the new Emoji update?". News Talk. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  16. ^ Haass proposes new body to investigate Troubles killings, Irish Times, 16 December 2013
  17. ^ John Mulgrew, "Final draft on dealing with Northern Ireland's past released after failure on agreement", Belfast Telegraph, 31 December 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2014
  18. ^[bare URL PDF]
  19. ^ "New Northern Ireland 'civic flag' considered as officials debate cultural future". December 2021.
  20. ^ "Flags report: Five things we learned from 168-page document". BBC News. 4 December 2021.