Basil McCrea asked deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, to outline the departmental remit in relation to the flying of flags in public places during today’s Question Time. The flags protocol was agreed by OFMDFM and various organisations in 2005. A review of the protocol was to commence in 2009 but was postponed pending the review of the good relations policy. A further review was attempted in 2011 but progress stalled due to all-party talks chaired by Richard Haass which made recommendations on the flags issue. The 2014 Stormont House Agreement commits to establishing a commission that will examine a number of areas, including flags, identity, culture and tradition. The commission will produce a report after a period of 18 months. After Mr McCrea pointed out that a NI Life and Times survey shows that many people find flags and murals unappealing, the deputy First Minister replied “I always wonder about the accuracy of some of these surveys, but the reality, as we know, is that this is a vexed issue going back many decades, and a resolution needs to be found. Thus far, collectively, we have failed to find a resolution. There is a huge responsibility now, particularly in the context of the ongoing discussions, to find a way forward that meets the approval of all the parties in the House”. The deputy First Minister went on to add “flaunting flags, whether British national flags or Irish national flags, in people's faces for provocative reasons is very unpalatable. It is not grown-up. We need to get to a situation where we recognise the need for maturity in how we deal with each other with dignity and respect in our community. ”
Mr McGuinness also answered questions on childcare in light of Westminster’s Childcare Bill, which will increase the amount of free preschool childcare available to working parents in England. Mr McGuinness acknowledged the Westminster Bill and “the Executive have committed to provide a year's funded preschool education to every family that wants it” adding “the primary purpose of the preschool education programme is educational and focused on the development of the child. A positive consequence is that parents can enter the workforce.” However “currently there are no plans to extend the number of hours provided under the preschool education programme, but that does not preclude consideration of such provision in the future.” In addition the Executive’s draft childcare strategy is open for public consultation until mid-November. The draft childcare strategy has two high-level aims: to promote child development and to enable parents to join the workforce. Each of those will, in turn, contribute to enhanced levels of economic activity, greater equality and social inclusion and reduced child poverty, thereby delivering social change.
In addition Mr McGuinness also answered questions on the Pensioners’ Parliament, the Social investment Fund, the Shackleton site at Ballykelly, the Sustainable Development Strategy and Syrian refugees.