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O’Dowd criticises failures to equality proof flags policies

22 November, 2018 - by John O'Dowd

Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd has criticised the Executive Office and the PSNI for failing to carry out basic equality proofing of polices in relation to the display of flags and emblems.

John O’Dowd said:

“Every summer the display of flags and emblems on lamp-posts and other street furniture across the north causes community division and in some instances fear and intimidation. 

“And every year the statutory agencies and the PSNI use the Executive Office’s Flags Protocol to do nothing.

“I asked the Executive Office for a copy of the Equality Screening document associated with the 2005 Flags Protocol, which they are legally obliged to carry out on any policy. They informed me they could not confirm if the protocol was screened at the time.

“Given the use of the Flags Protocol by statutory agencies to justify doing nothing to protect communities from people erecting flags to mark out territory or to intimidate people living in mixed communities I would have expected the Executive Office paperwork to be in order.

“I then asked the PSNI if they had carried out an Equality Screening Exercise on the Protocol. They informed me they had not as it would be the responsibility of the Executive Office. They then went on to reveal that in regards the display of flags in communal areas they have ‘guidance which has been available to officers for a number of years’ but it too had not been Equality proofed.

“The PSNI are now going to equality screen the guidance available to their officers which is better late than never.”

In conclusion Mr O’Dowd said:

“There is a need for cultural and institutional change across Executive Departments and the PSNI to ensure compliance with their legal obligations on equality in making policy and decisions.

“Section 75 requires public bodies to promote equality. It is central to delivering a more equal society envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement.

“Section 75 has at times been treated as a tick-box exercise and in some cases not used at all as seen in the case of Flags Protocol. 

“The enforcement of the duties on public authorities has been identified as a fundamental issue in a report by the Equality Commission ‘Acting on the Evidence of Public Authority practises on the effectiveness of section 75’.

“The Commission should look again at how the duty to promote equality can be enforced.”

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