West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Mystery deepens over Union Flag at Strabane Social Security Office.

Published: 3 December, 2013

Sinn Féin West Tyrone MLA Michaela Boyle says the mystery deepens as to why the Union Flag was erected at Strabane Social Security Office for the first time since 1999 last month following denials by both DSD Minister Nelson Mc Causland and by the Chief Executive of the Social Security Agency that either had issued a directive for this highly controversial departure to happen.

She said,

"Following local concerns expressed to me about this turn of events, I contacted the Chief Executive of the Social Security Agency who categorically stated that he had not ordered it. I then submitted a series of questions to DSD Minister Nelson Mc Causland including asking whether he had issued the order to which he responded "I have not issued a Ministerial direction that the Union flag be flown on designated days on all DSD buildings."

"However, I find it highly implausible that the Union Flag was erected in the grounds of Strabane Social Security office on two separate occasions last month, for the first time in over 14 years, without orders from on high.

"So the question still remains as to who exactly issued the directive for this to happen in Strabane after a gap of 14 years and what was the motivation for doing so and I am now pursuing these questions with a direct FoI request to the Minister.

Note to editors: Below are questions on the issue of flying the Union Flag at SSA offices to DSD Minister Nelson Mc Causland and his responses.

Question: To ask the Minister for Social Development to detail all buildings under his Departmental remit on which the union flag has been flown in the last three years and to detail on what days in each of these years the union flag has been flown?

Answer: Arrangements for the flying of the Union flag from government buildings are contained in the Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000, as amended by the Flags Regulations (NI) Amendment 2002. The designated days for hoisting the Union flag on government building are set out in the Regulations.

Annex 1 provides a list of Departmental offices where the Union flag was flown on all designated days unless otherwise noted. This information covers the financial years 2011/12 and 2012/13 and the period 1 April to 31 October 2013.

Annex 1

Departmental for Social Development Offices

Antrim Jobs & Benefits Office

Armagh Jobs & Benefits Office

Ballyclare Community Benefit Office 1

Ballymoney Jobs & Benefits Office

Ballynahinch Social Security Office

Banbridge Jobs & Benefits Office

Bangor Social Security Office

Belfast Benefit Delivery Centre

Carrickfergus Jobs & Benefits Office

Coleraine Jobs & Benefits Office

Cookstown Social Security Office

Corporation St. Social Security Office

Downpatrick Social Security Office

Dungannon Jobs & Benefits Office

Enniskillen Jobs & Benefits Office

Foyle Jobs & Benefits Office

Great Northern Tower

Holywood Rd. Jobs & Benefits Office

James House

Kilkeel Jobs & Benefits Office 2

Knockbreda Jobs & Benefits Office

Larne Jobs & Benefits Office

Limavady Jobs & Benefits Office

Lisahally Processing Centre

Lisburn Jobs & Benefits Office

Lisnagelvin Jobs & Benefits Office

Lurgan Jobs & Benefits Office

Magherafelt Jobs & Benefits Office

Newcastle Social Security Office

Newtownards Social Security Office

Omagh Jobs & Benefits Office

Portadown Jobs & Benefits Office

Shankill Road Jobs & Benefits Office

1 Office closed down on 31 March 2013

2 Flag was not flown on 15 August 2011 and 20 January 2012

Question: To ask the Minister for Social Development to state whether he has personally issued a Ministerial direction that the union flag be flown upon all buildings under his Departmental remit on designated days and, if so, the date this direction was issued.

Answer: I have not issued a Ministerial direction that the Union flag be flown on designated days on all DSD buildings.

Question: To ask the Minister for Social Development, given his responsibility to ensure a neutral political environment for all staff working in and customers using buildings under his Ministerial remit whether he believes the flying of the union flag on these buildings is an unnecessarily divisive practice designed only to offend and create discomfort for all who do not identify with or share a political or cultural affinity with this emblem.

Answer: Arrangements for the flying of the Union flag from government buildings is contained in the Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000, as amended by the Flags Regulations (NI) Amendment 2002. My Department complies with these regulations.

My Department takes its responsibilities under the NICS Dignity at Work policy seriously and fully complies with its requirements.

Question: To ask the Minister for Social Development to state whether the practice of flying the union flag on buildings under his Departmental control is undertaken in-house or through private contract and if the latter to provide a breakdown of the costs involved.

Answer: Private contractors facilitated the flying of the Union flag at nine DSD premises during the period 1 November 2012 - 31 October 2013 at a cost of £2158.85. Departmental staff facilitated the flying of the Union flag at 24 DSD premises.