Contentious Union flag returns to Magherafelt town centre

Union flag re-appears in Magherafelt without permission
Union flag re-appears in Magherafelt without permission

Eighteen months after Mid Ulster District Council voted to remove the Union flag from Magherafelt town centre it has reappeared.

The British Truth Forum has claimed responsibility for erecting the flag in the early hours of this morning (Wednesday).

In the place where Mid Ulster District Council plans to site a new £46,000 artwork designed to be cross-community, the group said it has re-instated a flag pole with the Union flag on top “on behalf of Orange Order members and non-members, victims, and veterans of HM Forces”.

Back on the roundabout where it had stood for decades, the original flag pole is understood to have been put in place by the Orange Order - who broke their silence on its removal last October.

They said its eviction from the majority nationalist town made Magherafelt “a cold place for unionists”.

Its removal as part of the town’s public regeneration scheme was met with outrage by both DUP and UUP representatives at council, but the decision was a democratic one - and one that Cllr Sean McPeake said was aimed at making the town centre “a shared space” for everyone in the community.

British Truth Forum member William Lennox, who admitted he was behind the new flag, disagreed and said the Union flag already represents everyone as it features St Patrick’s Saltire.

Mr Lennox said that he and a group of other men, some of whom he said are Orange Order members, put the new flag up between midnight and 1.30am this morning (Wednesday).

“It was funded by victims, ex-veterans, members of the Orange Order and non members of the Orange Order,” he said.

Determined that the group did nothing wrong, he said they didn’t need planning permission for the new flag post as the old one had been approved, but it is understood this was not the case.

Asked why the group waited until the dead of night, he said: “Would you rather we had put it up in the middle of the day with all the traffic going around?

“We put it up in the safety, where there was hardly any traffic going around. The choice was to go up late at night or in the early hours of the morning.”

And on the subject of permission from planners, he added: “The council was aware it was going back up... about four days after it was taken down.”

Police said they are aware of an incident in The Diamond area of Magherafelt in the early hours and that enquiries into the matter are ongoing.

Both Mid Ulster District Council and the Orange Order have been contacted for comment.