Flying the Irish flag in Scotland could amount to a criminal offence in certain circumstances.
The warning came after Police Scotland revealed it had a list of flags and symbols that could be considered provocative, depending on how they were used. As well as the Irish tricolour, the list included the Orange Order flag, the King William of Orange flag, and perhaps more surprisingly, the flags of Israel, Palestine, and the Catalan and Basque regions of Spain.
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The list is part of a “restricted document” issued to police officers. It was revealed after the Herald made a Freedom of Information request.
Anyone considered to be flying the listed flags in “a provocative manner” could be charged with a Breach of the Peace or offences under the Criminal Justice and Licensing Act. Offenders could face five years in prison.
In more extreme cases, if flags and symbols are used to promote proscribed organisations like the IRA or the UVF, charges could be brought under terrorism legislation and lead to longer sentences.
Of course, flags of all types are flown throughout Ireland and UK without leading to criminal charges and so the key issue is the way the flag is used, for example, when Irish and Orange Order flags are used in a provocative manner to show support for Republican or Unionist views.
This can happen in large marches through major cities like Glasgow and at football matches involving Scotland’s two great rival teams, Rangers, who are supported predominantly by Protestants and Celtic, who attract mainly Catholic fans.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that some people advocating Scottish independence fly the Catalan flag, in solidarity with the campaign for Catalan independence from Spain.
As in Northern Ireland, Nationalists will sometimes fly the Palestine flag as they feel the struggle of the Palestine people reflects their own struggle to regain control of their homeland, while Unionists may fly the Israeli flag in solidarity with its struggle to maintain its security.
The issue can become very emotionally charged. The Herald quotes an expert on the history of flags who said that colleagues who had commented on these issues in the past had received abuse and even death threats. For this reason he didn’t want to be named.
He said: “The use of some of those flags is simply down to which conflicts or struggles around the world are supposedly ideologically linked to sectarian ideologies.”
The restricted police document says: “Whilst the display of the following flags is not an offence, in itself, if flown or displayed in a provocative manner or altered, constitute a common law Breach of the Peace or an offence under Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2000.
“If they are altered to contain a reference to a proscribed organisation they may constitute an offence under Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
“Irrespective of the above, the possession of these flags within a football ground may constitute a breach of ground regulations. As such, if these flags are seen, the stadium control room should be contacted; they will liaise with the football club and advise officers as to the appropriate course of action.”
The Irish tricolour flag wasn’t always the national flag of Ireland. It was given to a group of Irish rebels in the 19th century by a group of French women who sympathised with their cause. Discover more