A loyalist initiative to try and cut the number of displays of paramilitary flags around the Province has been hailed as “hugely successful”.
The plan, unveiled by the Loyalist Communities Council in May, essentially sought to replace the UDA or UVF flags which are commonly displayed during the marching season with a new design.
This new green flag has the Red Hand of Ulster at its centre surrounded by the dates of famous World War One battles – starting with the Somme – and has spread prolifically across the Province since then.
The scheme has had the backing of the UVF, UDA, and Red Hand Commando.
Doug Beattie, UUP MLA for Upper Bann, has recently been appointed to the official Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition, which aims to come up with a solution to the controversial display of flags across the Province.
He told the News Letter that in Portadown for example he now knows of only around a dozen paramilitary flags, where previously “you could have counted them in their fifties or hundreds”.
“I think it’s been hugely successful,” he said.
Asked what may happen next year, when the centenary of the start of the Somme is no longer being marked, he said: “I think we’d be complacent if, every year, we just expected last year’s solution to work.
“We need to look at next year and see how we can build on the successes of this year.”
It was put to him that while the new flag might not bear the letters UVF or UDA, many may still see it as signalling the presence of one of these paramilitary groups in their area.
“I think people can be mean-spirited about this in truth,” he said.
He said flags and the marking of territory is simply “part of everyday life”, and happens in nationalist areas too.
“I think people need to look at this for what it is,” he said.
“It’s an attempt for people to make flags less confrontational – in the short term, granted.
“But it gives us the building blocks to hopefully come up with a solution in the long term.”
He said that his flags group had its initial meeting last Wednesday, and that the expectation is that it will still report in 18 months as originally envisioned.
He said it is also expected to issue an interim report in about nine months’ time.
Ian McCrea, a former DUP MLA for Mid Ulster who also sits on the panel, was also asked his views about the loyalist flag initiative, but said he was not aware of it.
No-one from the Loyalist Communities Council could be contacted for comment.