Speaking during Wednesday’s debate on the Local Government Bill TUV leader Jim Allister challenged the DUP to take a stand for the Union Flag.
In the course of his remarks Mr Allister said:
“We have had an anxiety from some, which is a bit reminiscent of the on-the-runs saga, to point to the Ulster Unionists and say, “It all happened on your watch: it is your problem” etc. In one sense, that is fair enough, but the lead party of unionism today is the Democratic Unionist Party. It, above all, is required to deliver a solution to the crisis created by the tearing down of the flag from Belfast City Hall.
“I suggest that this, the Local Government Bill, is one of the last opportunities to do anything about it. If these amendments are thwarted tonight, and the Bill passes as it is, the reality will be that in approximately half of the councils, the Union flag will not fly. Indeed, it could be more because, if excess is taken to the insistence on a qualified majority vote, maybe the Union flag will fly from only a couple of the 11 councils. The only way to protect against that is by legislating in this Bill.
“It is a bit like the definition of a victim: once it is through, it is, essentially, too late to do anything about it. Therefore, I say to the lead party of unionism that it has to pick up the challenge and consider the fact that it will not be enough to leave here tonight saying, “We tried, but the perversion of the petition of concern defeated us. We now have a Bill, and we will just have to live with it.” That is not how it has to be. If it really goes to the core of what the primary unionist party in the Province would wish to defend, that party has the option, as others have exercised in respect of other Bills, of stalling this Bill until the issue is addressed. If it is not addressed in this Bill, it will not be addressed.
“That is the challenge and the opportunity. I think that the DUP needs to consider whether or not it feels strongly enough about this issue to make sure that the Local Government Bill that eventually passes in the House addresses it. Taking that stand is in your gift. I respectfully say to you that you should think about exercising that, because if the Bill goes through as is, we are not going to see the change, the reversal, the restoration or the fulfilment of the promise that the flag would fly again on City Hall. I will give way to Mr Weir.
“If we are as exercised as we say we are about the tearing down of the flag and wish to see the flag flown on political buildings, such as council chambers, in every part of the United Kingdom, it will be too late once this Bill passes, having fought and lost a battle. So there is an opportunity and a challenge to weigh up and decide. Is the lead party of unionism prepared to take a stand of that strength on this issue? That is how many people in the community who hoped, and believed the promises, that the flag etc would be restored will judge the issue. I do not see any other opportunities to do that but through applying the leverage and the pressure that this Bill presents the opportunity of doing.”