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ARK report finds that public attitudes to flags remain controversial in NI

23/11/2017


A research report on public attitudes entitled, ‘Bonfires, Flags, Identity and Cultural Traditions’, has been released by ARK, a joint initiative between Queen’s and Ulster University.

The report, which used data from the 2016 Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) Survey was launched this week at a public seminar held at the Skainos Centre in East Belfast. The survey, which was conducted by ARK, records the opinions of over 1,200 adults from across Northern Ireland. The questions on flags and bonfires were funded by The Executive Office.

The results from the survey indicate that flags and other forms of markers continue to divide opinion in Northern Ireland, with reaction to these markers varying significantly according to religious and other forms of identity.

Some of the key findings from the research report include:

  • 66 per cent of NILT respondents did not feel intimidated by republican or loyalist markers of identity (murals, flags and kerb painting) in the past year.
  • 42 per cent agreed that bonfires are a legitimate form of cultural expression, while 33 per cent of respondents disagreed.
  • Nine out of ten respondents agree that bonfire organisers should be held to account if there is property damage or injuries as a result of their bonfires, with just 5 per cent disagreeing with this.
  • 48 per cent of respondents supported the flying of flags on lampposts throughout Northern Ireland on special dates for particular celebrations.
  • There is majority support for flying of the union flag on designated days from public buildings among all groups, although this ranged from 52 per cent among British respondents to 73 per cent among Northern Irish respondents.

Dr Paula Devine, ARK Co-director, based in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “The data shows that flags and other forms of markers continue to split opinion in Northern Ireland. For example, 48 per cent of respondents would support the flying of flags on lampposts throughout Northern Ireland on special dates, but 34 per cent are opposed to this. 

“We also found that attitudes vary significantly according to religious and other forms of identity. This data is very timely, given the current Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT).”

According to the survey results, opinion was also divided on whether flags on lampposts should be taken down straightaway, even if this causes trouble. 45 per cent of respondents agreed that flags should be taken down, while 33 per cent disagreed.

Professor Gillian Robinson, ARK Research Director and Professor of Social Research at Ulster University, added: “Given the increased tensions around bonfires over the past few summers it is interesting to examine responses to the two new questions on bonfires included in the survey. These show that attitudes are split in terms of whether or not the public think bonfires are a legitimate form of cultural expression with 42 per cent agreeing, while 33 per cent disagree. However, the public is united in its view that bonfire organisers should be held to account if there is property damage or injuries as a result of their bonfires, with 86 per cent of respondents agreeing with this statement.”

The research report is available at: www.ark.ac.uk/publications/updates/update119.pdf.

Full details, including tables of results, from the 2016 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey are available at: www.ark.ac.uk/nilt/2016.

Media inquiries to Jemma Greenlees at Queen's University Belfast on Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3091 or email comms.office@qub.ac.uk.

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