This week's Carmarthenshire Herald reports again on the mysterious business of the Council's flag flying habits. Of particular interest over the past year or two has been the reluctance to fly the Rainbow flag, the universal symbol of support for diversity and inclusion for LGBT rights and which flutters from most civic buildings during Pride celebrations.
|Rainbow Flag at Llanelli Police Station|
Despite the council appearing in the rankings of Stonewall as a LGBT employer, back in February 2015, requests to fly the flag by the council's own diversity group
were refused. The final say resting with the chief executive. The council chose to fly the Duke of York's flag instead, in honour of his birthday (the Duke of York's, not the chief executive's...I think).
Moving forward to August this year and after the flag failed to appear again, the Herald made some enquiries and discovered that there were 'procedures' about flag flying. Indeed, Herald columnist Cadno also made some interesting observations, covered on this blog here
The article prompted a freedom of information request to enquire about the council's policy on flags and when such a policy was adopted by council. The response
stated that a policy had been adopted on July 10th 2015.
Having studied, in detail, all published agendas and minutes around that time neither the Herald, nor I for that matter, could spot any reference to a 'flag policy' being referred to councillors for approval, or even endorsement.
One of the earlier reasons given for refusing to fly the rainbow flag was that County Hall was besieged with 'so many' flag flying requests from groups, it chose not to fly any.
On that basis the FOI request also asked for some numbers. How many requests were made before the policy? How many were made after?
The answer to the first was 'We do not hold the information'
, so presumably they, if there were any, went straight into the Presidential Pedal Bin. And after? There had been two, both rejected. One was from CEMTA, (Community Engagement, Media, Technology and Arts) and the other from Seafarers UK.
With the lack of recorded requests, and only two since last July, it's difficult to justify a policy, even one dreamed up over a cup of Earl Grey in the confines of the Presidential Suite, with no publicity whatsoever.
As CEMTA are involved in LGBT and Pride projects, the Herald asked them why their request was rejected. It turns out that they have made two requests to fly the Rainbow Flag. Their 2015 request appears, coincidentally, to have been made just before, or at the same time, as this 'flag policy' was adopted. It seems it was refused under the premise that there was some sort of lengthy procedure and they were out of time.
Incidentally, the Rainbow Flag made a brief appearance over Jail Hill, once, just after the Orlando nightclub massacre, in response to a request on Twitter, and without any procedures at all. Aside, perhaps, for a damage limitation exercise with regards to the potential for negative publicity on social media...
As nobody knew about the 'policy', CEMTA asked again this year, in plenty of time for the Pride celebrations in Llanelli. The chief executive gave a personal response, and although he was happy to support community ventures, due to the 'many'
requests 'we have taken a view that this does not extend to flag flying at civic centres'.
Was this the usual 'Royal We'? Or did leader of the council Emlyn Dole (Plaid) know about it, and agree? If so, then it's disappointing.
One might even conclude that 'flag flying' was not a matter for the chief executive, an employee, at all, and to introduce a policy, even if it was
conjured up in the executive broom cupboard, without any record of necessity, is highly questionable, even irrational.
Of course the perception that anyone in County Hall has a particular aversion to the colourful Rainbow flag, and all it represents, would surely be wrong...though a 'policy' to refuse 'all', captures the repeated requests to fly this one...
As The Herald concludes;
"As it stands, on the face of Mr James’s words, the policy is redundant. Mr James will never give permission to fly any flag. On the basis that nobody will get permission, of course, the policy cannot be said to be discriminatory in any way.
Which, of course, it isn’t."