DUP flags move ‘a ploy to get care homes off the front page’

Flag protest
Flag protest

The DUP has been accused of using the flags issue to detract attention from the fallout over care home closure announcements.

SDLP Environment Minister Alex Attwood made the claim as it emerged five more Government-owned buildings will now fly the Union flag on designated days.

The buildings, which are under the control of DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson are the offices of the Department of the Environment in College Street, Goodwood House in May Street, Victoria Hall in may Street, Clare House on Airport Road West, and Rosepark House on the Upper Newtownards Road.

It has been reported that the cost to erect the five extra flagpoles could be around £10,000.

A spokesperson from the Department told the Irish News that the estimated cost per site is £500-£2,000.

The five new flagpoles will bring the total number on DFP-controlled buildings to nine.

Mr Attwood said he would question Mr Wilson and the DUP’s judgement and priorities after what has been a difficult week following announcements some Trusts in Northern Ireland planned to close all their care homes.

The Belfast MLA said: “This proposal raises again fundamental questions about Sammy Wilson’s and the DUP’s judgment and their priorities in government, whatever Minister Wilson might claim his legal powers to be.

“After months when people have been losing hope and have been losing confidence in government, and after last week’s trauma on care homes, the Finance Minister and DUP confirm what is their priority.

“Ministers must not be deflected from our urgent responsibilities to people in demanding times. I will not be deflected from my Ministerial agenda in planning, local government, tackling dereliction, and leveraging our environmental assets to create jobs and build a strong economy.”

He went on to criticise the party’s handling of the flags issue.

“The DUP is making a bad situation worse. We should be working through the flags issue wisely and together. There are ways we can. It could consider the practice on government buildings, including the building that houses my Private Office. But Sammy Wilson’s approach is to escalate, to act alone and not be wise. That is much of what the DUP now is.

“One of the lessons from the flags dispute is to tread carefully. To make an announcement without any conversation with others, to parachute this proposal into the current turbulence on flags and to do so when people badly need government to get its act together, begs the question - beyond the wider questions of the DUP’s judgment and content of their politics, is this all a ploy by the DUP to get care homes off the front page?”

But north Belfast MLA William Humphrey hit out at the comments and accused Mr Attwood of double standards in his condemnation.

“I won’t take a lecture from Alex Attwood on inclusive decision-making,” he said. “The SDLP, SF and the Alliance Party abandoned consensus politics in favour of majority rule the evening they overruled unionists and removed the Union Flag from City Hall. There was no reaching a consensus that evening. Alex Attwood’s Party showed little of their shared future vision when they named a play park after a republican terrorist and then voted for the early release of man who tried to murder my colleague Cllr Sammy Brush and continue to campaign for the release of Marian Price. Where is Alex’s condemnation of these acts?”