HC Deb 29 November 1984 vol 68 cc1077-8
7. Dr. Mawhinney

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he intends to introduce legislation to bring the Province into line with the rest of the United Kingdom with respect to the flying of flags.

Mr. Scott

We have no present plans to do so.

Dr. Mawhinney

Does my hon. Friend understand that his answer will cause grave disappointment to some of his hon. Friends and to the Unionists, who are always pressing Her Majesty's Government to treat the Province in exactly the same way as they treat the United Kingdom? At least in this instance, will he explain why the Government are treating the Province differently?

Mr. Scott

I am not without sympathy for the point that my hon. Friend puts forward. Perhaps I can clear up one misapprehension. It is not illegal to fly the tricolour in Northern Ireland, only to do so in circumstances likely to cause a breach of the peace. However, I understand that other legal powers are available to the police which enable them to act in those matters. My hon. Friend must recognise that this is a sensitive matter.

Mr. William Ross

Will the Minister confirm that when the flag of the Irish Republic is flown in Northern Ireland it is flown not as a friendly gesture to a neighbouring state but rather as a claim by the Irish Government to sovereignty over Northern Ireland? Will he also confirm that there are a number of councils in Northern Ireland, such as Londonderry, which do not allow the Union flag to be flown on any buildings over which they have control?

Mr. Scott

Of course, I understand that there are some circumstances where the Irish tricolour is used provocatively. There are also times, I imagine, in Northern Ireland when it is used to express the aspirations of one third of the community.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

It is not a third.

Mr. Scott

The Government are pledged to respect the tradition of that one third of the population.

Mr. Archer

Is the Minister aware that many people in Northern Ireland will appreciate his answer? Does he not understand that the Flags and Emblems (Display) (Northern Ireland) 1954 Act is a gratuitous and pointless provocation to nationalist feeling and that repealing it would be a modest step towards the hope of restoring some progress through constitutional politics?

Mr. Scott

This is a sensitive matter. It is something that the Government will consider, but I cannot at this point commit myself to any definite action.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House on what he bases his allegation that a third of the people want to go into the Irish Republic? Recently, an outstanding Roman Catholic leader calling himself Father Paul said that not 20 per cent. of Roman Catholics would vote for a united Ireland.

Mr. Scott

I am not even sure that raising the tricolour necessarily demonstrates a wish to join the Republic. It indicates an aspiration—one might say a tradition—within Northern Ireland, to which we owe respect.

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