The Equality Commission has advised that wearing Easter lilies in the workplace “has the potential to cause disharmony” after Derry City & Strabane District Council backed the move for its employees.
Councillors backed the move in a vote on Thursday, despite protests from the SDLP and unionists in favour of keeping a “neutral” workplace.
SF councillor Michael Cooper said: “It isn’t about forcing people to wear a lily, it is about recognising their right to do so if they so wish. The Good Friday Agreement established the right of all to remember their dead and this policy is simply a recognition of that principle.”
However speaking to the News Letter, the Equality Commission said it advises employers that “Easter Lilies or Orange symbols” are examples of emblems “which may have the potential to cause disharmony”.
It added that it would provide advice to anyone who lodged a complaint against the council over the lilies and will consider offering legal assistance.
The commission said it was aware of two previous legal cases brought by NI prisoners seeking the right to wear Easter lilies - one a judicial review to the NI High Court and the other to the European Court of Human Rights.
Although the commission was not involved in either case, its guidance was cited by the courts in rejecting both cases, it added.
By contrast, the commission takes the view that the wearing poppies and shamrocks “is not something which should cause offence”.
Newry Mourne & Down District Council UUP Councillor David Taylor has fought for years against his council’s decision to name a playground after IRA man Raymond McCreesh. He is now concerned that his council will also adopt Easter lilies.
“I will be monitoring very closely the Equality Commission’s response to the decision taken by Derry City & Strabane Council,” he said.