Why is there no Northern Irish flag in the new Emoji update?

Emoji 5.0 introduces people in a sauna, vampires, and the flags of England, Scotland, and Wales – and not Northern Ireland

Why is there no Northern Irish flag in the new Emoji update?

[© 2017 Emojipedia]

On June 30th, a historic moment in the history of contemporary communication will take place, as 69 new emoji are released.

As has become increasingly common in recent updates, Emoji 5.0 will offer greater representation of women and ethnic minorities, including three gender-neutral icons for the first time.

Breastfeeding, a bearded man, and a woman in a headscarf are also among the new people, as well as male and female versions of a person doing yoga, rock climbing, or luxuriating in a sauna – officially requested by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Other noteworthy additions in this year’s update, totalling 239 different pictographs when accounting for race variations, include several new face updates. That category, arguably the most commonly used, now also counts swearing and a cocked eyebrow in its arsenal of reactions.

Just some of the 69 new emoji designs set for release by the Unicode Consortium later this year [© 2017 Emojipedia]

New emoji in the animal section include a zebra, a giraffe, a hedgehog, and two dinosaurs, while foodies are represented with new icons for coconut, broccoli, a pretzel, a sandwich, and more.

Perhaps the most politically vexing new additions are in the flag section, which may have vexillologists searching for the ‘Thinking Face Emoji’ as they scan through it; come June 30th, the national flags of England, Scotland, and Wales will become available for the first time – but not that of Northern Ireland.

Flagging the issue

In light of the UK triggering Article 50 earlier this week as the country formally removes itself from the European Union, could the Unicode Consortium, the international body in charge of how data is presented on computer screens around the world, be hedging its bets on the dissolution of the United Kingdom and the reunification of Ireland?

Not quite, explained Jeremy Burge, Chief Emoji Officer at Emojipedia and a member of the Unicode Consortium’s emoji subcommittee.

“Emoji 5.0 allows for any of the more than 2,000 flags listed as ‘International Organisation for Standardisation Subdivisions’. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all on that list,” Burge said.

“For this release, Unicode is recommending the flags of England, Scotland and Wales be added. Northern Ireland would have likely been suitable, but there are long-standing issues around this flag.

“The real issue is that Northern Ireland has no official flag other than the Union Flag,” Burge added.

The Unicode Consortium is correct, the official flag of Northern Ireland is the UK’s Union Flag, which incorporated the St Patrick’s Saltire in 1801 to represent Ireland. The Ulster Banner, also known as the ‘Red Hand Flag’, was flown by the Parliament of Northern Ireland from 1953 until it was dissolved in 1973.

The controversial Union Banner flag was first flown above the Parliament of Northern Ireland in honour of the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Belfast after her coronation in 1953 [World Flag Database]

Since then, the Ulster Banner has become synonymous with the unionist community of Northern Ireland, while the Irish tricolour has become an emblem of the nationalist population. The St Patrick’s Saltire flag, with its x-shaped red cross, is considered a sub-national flag of Northern Ireland, but is politically less contentious than either of the aforementioned two.

To complicate matters further, despite it being considered by some as a symbol of sectarianism, the Union Banner is still used as the official sporting flag of the Northern Ireland by Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland, UEFA and FIFA.

The St. Patrick's Saltire flag, often used in Northern Ireland on St. Patrick's Day, is not considered an official flag of the country despite its cross-community use [World Flag Database]

In 2013, the issue of flags in Northern Ireland had become so politically fraught that US diplomat Richard Haass, while chairing talks between the country’s political parties, addressed head it head on. At the time, a draft proposal was made that requested all parties to considered designing a new flag for Northern Ireland to replace the Ulster Banner, but an agreement could not be reached.

However, should parties in Northern Ireland wish to see the Union Banner become an emoji, it would be possible.

“Even though it is not on the recommended list, if any vendor like Apple or Google wanted to include the Northern Ireland flag in their next update, Emoji 5.0 allows it,” said Jeremy Burge.

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