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23rd Sep 2018

Flying the tricolour and other Irish flags could be a criminal offence in Scotland

Dave Hanratty

Irish flags Scotland illegal

A conviction in court could lead to a five-year prison sentence.

Ireland’s national flag and several other Irish banners are potentially illegal in Scotland if used “in a provocative manner”.

That’s according to a report in the Herald Scotland that outlines a “restricted document” issued to police officers.

Officers may charge those judged to be in breach of the peace under Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licencing Scotland Act 2010.

If convicted, offenders could face up to five years in prison.

Among the offending flags in question are the Irish tricolour, the ‘Sunburst’, which is closely associated with Irish nationalism, the ‘Starry Plough’, which was originally sported by the Irish Citizen Army, the flag of Leinster, the four provinces flag, the Orange Order flag, the Ulster ‘Red Hand’ banner and the Ulster Independence flag.

The Catalan flag is also on the watchlist, which has an Irish connection due to some Irish nationalists flying it to contrast Catalonia’s desire for independence from Spain with that of Ireland’s divide with Britain.

Similarly, the Basque and Palestinian flags are also cited for much the same reasons.

The restricted police document states that the display of the flags is not an offence in and of itself, but if flown or displayed in a provocative manner or altered, they constitute a common law breach of the peace.

“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,” states the restricted document in question.

The document also notes that football matches are a particular source of possible trouble.

“Irrespective of the above, the possession of these flags within a football ground may constitute a breach of ground regulations,” it says.

“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 Herald note that experts on flags were hesitant to comment on the list, while the Irish embassy also declined to comment on the matter.

“Often flags themselves are not the issue but the criminal conduct that accompanies them is,” said Chief Superintendent John McKenzie from Police Scotland’s Safer Communities.

“This could include, but is not limited to, threatening gestures or words, or flags being amended to show support for a proscribed terrorist group or amendments which constitute a hate crime.”

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