Ban pictures of the Queen, says Sinn Fein

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SINN FEIN is to press for Northern Ireland's new ruling executive to remove all Union flags from public buildings in the province. The republican leadership is also calling for symbols associated with the unionist tradition, such as portraits of the Queen, to be banned from workplaces.

The proposals, which are sure to cause fury in unionist quarters, are part of a series of recommendations made in the party's programme for government, due to be released this week. It is understood that the party will recommend to Stormont's power-sharing executive that where Union flags and unionist emblems - such as the Red Hand of Ulster and the Crown - are not removed, the Irish tricolour and nationalist symbols should be put up alongside them.

Apart from government departments, the public bodies which could be affected by the proposal include the province's fire and ambulance services.

Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson warned Sinn Fein last night that it would be undermining "a central tenet" of the Good Friday Agreement. "I think here we have evidence of Sinn Fein's strategy to advance their own very narrow agenda of removing the British identity from Northern Ireland," said the Lagan Valley MP.

The Democratic Unionist Party's Gregory Campbell vowed that his party would fight the proposals "tooth and nail".

Other unionist politicians last night greeted the proposals with derision.

"If Sinn Fein stayed off the contentious issues and got down to the serious business of governing Northern Ireland, then I'm sure they're as capable as anyone of doing the job," said the Progressive Unionist Party's David Ervine. "But some of this stuff is sheer, unadulterated nonsense."

Sinn Fein is also understood to be recommending that Saint Patrick's Day be made a national holiday throughout Ireland, and that financial incentives, university entrance requirements and agriculture policies be harmonised on both sides of the Irish border.

Meanwhile, Democratic Unionist Party minister Peter Robinson expressed concern that Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble will back down on his demands for a start to IRA decommissioning in February.

t Former United States senator George Mitchell, 66, who chaired the Northern Ireland multi-party talks has been nominated for next year's Nobel Peace Prize.