Craigavon Borough Council will spend £10,000 to gauge public opinion in a bid to introduce the year-round flying of the Union Flag on all civic buildings.
The decision to spend the five-figure sum was taken ‘in-committee’ last week, and the outcome of the public consultation won’t emerge until the turn of the year, four months before the council ceases to exist.
The change-over to the ‘ABC’ (Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon) Council will be April 2015. And in the meantime, the 41 members of the ‘shadow’ body – elected a fortnight ago - will have to decide on a flag policy for the new administration.
At the moment, Armagh has a ‘designated days’ ethos, Banbridge flies 365 days a year following the ‘Equality Impact Assessment’ (EIA) that Craigavon has agreed upon. Craigavon follows the ‘designated days’ route, introduced 10 years ago.
The change of policy was proposed at the monthly council meeting by DUP’s Carla Lockhart, and went through on a 13-11 majority. The vote was along the usual unionist-nationalist lines, although it is reported that one unionist abstained.
It was hoped the costs of the EIA could be kept to £5,000, with an outside firm appointed to consult the public on the issue. But there was just one tender submitted and it was close to £10,000 .
The company will question a wide range of public opinion including business people and community groups.
One unionist said, “We are confident the majority of people will favour the 365 days policy, and with Banbridge adopting the same stand, we believe ABC will follow suit.”
But that will not wash well in villages within ABC, where the Armagh compromise is seen as acceptable to all.
A Craigavon nationalist said, “This is £10,000 of ratepayers’ money and it should have been discussed in open council. The designated days policy was working well, but certain unionists used the situation in the run-up to the May elections. It has become a divisive issue.”