Confusion over flag protocol

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The national flag was flown at half-mast at the Red House, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, on Friday, as sign of respect to the passing of Elizabeth II on Thursday. – JEFF K MAYERS

UNCERTAINTY reigned over what was the proper protocol for flying the TT flag at half-mast to mourn the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and whether in fact it has been properly followed. A statement by the Ministry of National Security on September 8 had said when the flag should be flown at half-mast, but this seemed at odds with what was being carried out in the UK and US, and with what Newsday observed agencies in TT doing.

The ministry has said, “The flag is to be flown at half-mast beginning immediately today (September 8), tomorrow (September 9) and as well on the day of Her Majesty’s funeral service (September 19).” While the instruction seemed to suggest the TT flag be flown at full-mast on the other ten days between the news of the Queen’s death after September 9 and up to September 19, Newsday in fact saw many government and private organisations flying it half-mast throughout.

To add to the uncertainty, the British Government advised the union flag be flown at half-mast throughout the period. “Following the death of Her Majesty The Queen, all official flags, including the Union Flag, should be half-masted from as soon as possible today until 08.00 the day following The Queen’s State Funeral.

“Flags may be flown overnight during this period but should remain at half-mast.”

International media houses reported US President Joe Biden ordering all US flags to be flown at half mast throughout the period from the Queen’s death to her funeral. The UK Telegraph reported, “Joe Biden ordered US flags to be flown at half-mast for the next 10 days until the Queen’s state funeral.”

However, the questionable positioning of a comma in Biden’s original announcement on the White House website in fact suggested to Newsday the half mast be observed only on the day of the funeral. This was a Proclamation on the Death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8.

It read, “As a mark of respect for the memory of Queen Elizabeth II, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, on the day of interment.”

Newsday’s interpretation was that if the half-mast was to run for the entire ten day period, Biden’s statement should have omitted a comma to instead read, “until sunset on the day of interment.” Biden said the flag should be flown at half mast at all US embassies and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels.

Newsday was unable to contract Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds to clarify the advice.