Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has voted against a proposal to fly the transgender flag on Transgender Day of Remembrance due to a lack of policy around the flying of such a flag.
The issue came before a monthly meeting of Council on Monday, February 28, following a request from Alliance Party councillor Eoin Tennyson for Council to fly the transgender flag and light up its civic buildings pink and purple on international transgender day of visibility on March 31.
A report from officers explained that while the cost of doing so is not prohibitive, the council would have to draft and agree a specific policy relating to the flying of the transgender flag and advised that due to the time scale involved, approval of the policy before March 31 would be “challenging”.
It was however confirmed that Council’s building could be lit up pink and purple on March 31 should members agree to such a request.
Reflecting on this report, Cllr Tennyson said the proposal was initially brought forward to recognise “the contribution trans people make to our borough” and accepting the difficulties getting the policy in place in time for March 31, he proposed Council instead lights its civic buildings in pink and purple and flies the transgender flag on Transgender Day of Remembrance, Sunday, November 20.
This proposal was seconded by his party colleague, Councillor Peter Lavery.
Explaining that he had nothing against the proposal, UUP group leader Alderman Jim Speers said from a “procedural point of view” to support it would be the wrong approach.
“I would propose we adhere to the current policy, which does not involve the flying of any particular flag for any particular grouping. Each group is entitled to equal right and equal opportunities but it would be inappropriate to embark on a policy like this.
“I think it would be unwise to go down this route.”
DUP group leader, Councillor Mark Baxter said Alderman Speers made “a series of very valid points” and seconded his amendment.
Cllr Tennyson said there is no procedure for a group that wishes to have a flag flown and those request have to be brought through Council. He told the chamber approving his proposal would be nothing more than a “small endorsement of equality”.
Councillor Darryn Causby claimed Cllr Tennyson was simply electioneering with this proposal and accused him of demonstrating “bad governance”.
“I am not prepared to agree to fly a flag or light a building without a policy in place,” said Cllr Causby.
“I think this is trying to make a decision without a policy in place and that is the reverse of how business should be done. We have not had a row about flags in this chamber until the Alliance Party arrived.
“I will not be voting contrary to policy. Cllr Tennyson’s proposal is asking us to make a decision and hope the policy comes in the meantime. That is bad governance, it is immature and it is actually terrible politicking.”
SDLP group leader, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon said the lighting up issue is straightforward but asked about a potential flag flying policy for Council.
A council officer confirmed there was no existing policy at present and said if the policy was to be drafted no guarantees on timelines could be provided. Council’s Chief Executive, Roger Wilson, confirmed the flag policy is part of a suite of different matters that are being considered by a working group.
Sinn Fein group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle noted the council has a pride flag policy and said he would have thought this policy would work the same way.
“I am really shocked and saddened by the approach of the UUP,” he said. “If this is the brand new Doug Beattie UUP I am really quite shocked and I am sure he would be too.”
Alderman Jim Speers reiterated his belief that with no policy in place it would be wrong to agree to this proposal.
“Currently there is no such policy and personally I believe it is procedurally wrong at the whim of a couple members to do this,” he said.
“I have an issue with the fact there could be another group next month, the following month and on and on and I think that is procedurally wrong. With regards lighting up the building we have a practice that has operated effectively.
“That is a proper procedural manner and I am not in anyway making any comment against the grouping, ever part of society is entitled to an equal opportunity, don’t try to twist things.”
Cllr Tennyson attempted to raise a point of order noting that an amendment must not be a direct negative and reminded the chamber the proposal “is about a gesture of solidarity with a marginalised community”.
However, Cllr Causby noted the proposal brought by Cllr Tennyson was not within the papers of the meeting and said it is the Lord Mayor’s discretion as to whether the proposal is an amendment or not.
Council’s Lord Mayor said he believed the amendment is not a direct negative as it removes just part of the proposal and moved to a vote on the proposal.
Alderman Speer’s amendment passed with the 22 members of the DUP and UUP present voting in favour of the proposal as did Councillor Paul Berry. The 17 members of the Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein present voted against the proposal.
With the amendment passed, the request to light up Council’s civic buildings will now go to the Lord Mayor’s office and then onto party group leaders for a decision in line with policy.