Flag debate sank to level of football row

Regimental Blues protest at Motherwell Civic Centre.
Regimental Blues protest at Motherwell Civic Centre.

The debate on flying the Irish flag above North Lanarkshire Council buildings has been reduced to “banal, football-based controversy”.

That’s the view of the council’s SNP group who were criticised after a committee vote to mark next month’s centenary of the Easter Rising.

The decision was, as expected, overturned at a full council meeting last week.

The ruling Labour group had signalled its intention to reject the idea after the council’s corporate services committee voted 8-6 in favour of a request by Glasgow-based Irish organisation Cairde Na hEireann.

Six SNP councillors had teamed up with two Labour to approve the proposal to mark a bloody chapter in the campaign for Irish independence from Britain.

The committee vote sparked a protest outside Motherwell Civic Centre by Glasgow-based Loyalist group Regimental Blues who also organised a petition.

Despite the controversy there was no debate among councillors when the issue went before the full council. Th motion not to fly the flag was approved wihout opposition.

However, the council’s SNP group signalled its unhappiness at the furore surrounding the committee vote by abstaining.

Group leader David Stocks had admitted he was “overwhelmed” by criticism of the SNP’s stance at the committee meeting, but his members were angry that Regimental Blues had made public the names and contact details of councillors who voted in favour of the flag.

Explaining the reason for not presenting a united front with Labour at the full council, Councillor Stocks said: “No one would bat an eyelid if the council flew the French flag or the Canadian flag.

“The same goes for the Irish flag marking a key centenary event, in a west of Scotland council area where tens of thousands of Irish immigrants settled 150 years ago.

“No rules exist to prevent the council flying any flag it chooses.

“The SNP decided to abstain for two reasons. First, we learned that the official 1916 Rising Centenary Committee (Scotland), which is part-funded by the Irish Government, has never requested, or even discussed, the raising of Irish flags in Scotland to mark the centenary.

“Secondly, the historical issue has been reduced to banal, football-based controversy and thus has become a distraction from the many serious cultural and academic events and projects planned by the official centenary committee.”