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New guidelines for the flying of flags in Northern Ireland proposed by Queen’s University researcher

Queen’s Institute of Irish Studies propose a set of new guidelines for the unofficial display of flags in Northern Ireland.


Researchers at Queen’s will today (Wednesday 17 February) propose a set of new guidelines for the unofficial display of flags in Northern Ireland.

The guidelines form part of the newest report from Queen’s Institute of Irish Studies, which has been researching the flags issue over the past ten years.

Entitled ‘Flags: Towards a New Understanding’, the report outlines the findings of a new study aimed at finding a way forward on the complex issues surrounding the flying of flags on public buildings and on the unofficial flying of flags in outdoor spaces - often on lamp posts.

Compiled by Dr Dominic Bryan and Dr Paul Nolan from the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s, the report is based on a study involving a survey of 1,421 residents across Northern Ireland’s 11 council areas, focus groups, and interviews with political and community representatives, alongside a review of current policies.

Proposed new guidelines

In addition to presenting findings from the survey, the report includes a one page document entitled ‘Liberty and Respect: Guidelines for the Unofficial Display of Flags in Outdoor Settings’, which its authors hope will inform the evolution of a new consensual approach to the flags problem.

Set within the framework of European and UK legislation, the ‘Liberty and Respect’ guidelines are based around three core principles:

1. Time: For displays of flags to remain representative of significant commemorations or celebrations, they should be displayed for no longer that two weeks around the key dates of those events.

2. Place: In placing flags in public spaces, the following should be considered:

  • In residential areas, the views of all the people in a particular area should be given consideration, including those who are in a minority, with openness and transparency in all discussions.
  • Flags should not be placed outside homes in any way that could be considered intimidating or threatening.
  • Places which deliver public services are not suitable for the display of flags for celebratory or commemorative purposes. Flags should not be placed outside hospitals, health centres, schools or community centres.
  • Flags should not be placed in ‘interface’ areas.

3. Communication: To prevent or mitigate conflict, the utmost courtesy should be shown to those who might feel uncomfortable with flag display. Residents can reasonable expect to know who is putting the flags up and how long they will be displayed. This information should be communicated to the police, community leaders and advertised in the press.

Survey findings

Key findings from survey, which was undertaken by Lucid Talk polling agency include:

  • 70 per cent of people felt the issue of flags on public buildings was either important or very important, with just 18 per cent saying it wasn't important.
  • 7 out of 10 people polled want to see more regulation of flags in public spaces.
  • 53 per cent of people support the flying of flags on Council buildings on 18 designated days.

Dr Dominic Bryan, Co-Author of the report, said: “The research highlights that in terms of the display of flags on Council buildings, the flying of flags on designated days has the support of a narrow majority of people in Northern Ireland. We suggest that this could be rolled out across Northern Ireland as part of a broader package of changes, which should be led by an agreement among the main political parties at Stormont.

“The flying of flags on lamp posts, however, is a more complex problem. While new legislation would make it easier for agencies to act, there are real issues about the likely level of compliance and the resources required. Also, due to links to bonfires, murals, kerb-painting and other forms of cultural expression, any legislation aimed solely at flags would achieve little on its own. Therefore, rather than recommending legislation we are proposing a set of guidelines that we hope will provide a template for any group of people who are trying to agree a way forward for the display of flags in their community.”

Dr Paul Nolan, Research Consultant in the Institute of Irish Studies said: “The disputes over the flying of flags on council buildings and in public spaces have very significant resource implications for the public sector, particularly the police, with the policing of the 2012/13 flags dispute costing £21.9 million. There are significant political costs, with neither the Haass talks nor the recent Stormont House Agreement even came close to a solution. The setting up of a new Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition offers another opportunity to find a way forward, and we hope that today’s report will help inform the work of the Commission and lay the groundwork for policy efforts over the next few years.”

The report, ‘Flags: Towards a New Understanding’, will be available on the Institute of Irish Studies website at


Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed) or Michelle Cassidy (Thu-Fri), Queen’s University Communications Office, Tel: 028 9097 5310 Email: