A member of a south Armagh victims’ group has died after entering a lake at the centre of a flags row in Bessbrook.
He has been named locally as Oswald Bradley who was in his late 60s. The exact circumstances of his death were unclear.
There had been concern among the unionist community in the area following the appearance of two Irish tricolours on an island in Bessbrook Pond last week.
On Sunday, UUP MLA for the area Danny Kennedy said the display of the flags on some trees had the “potential to harm community relations” in the village.
Last night, Mr Kennedy said he spent time with the Bradley family at Daisy Hill Hospital and that they are “totally devastated” at the tragedy. Mr Kennedy was a friend of the deceased and was also “deeply upset” by the news.
“On behalf of the family I would like to thank the emergency services, the ambulance service and police and all those at the scene who rendered assistance.
“Attempts were made to save his life at Bessbrook Pond, but unfortunately it was all in vain.
“This is a very tragic outcome to controversies surrounding flags in this village. This is too high a price for any family and community to pay,” he added.
Mr Bradley was a former painter and decorator who also ran a chip shop in the village at one time.
He is understood to be a cousin of Kingsmills massacre victim John McConville.
William Irwin of the DUP said he was saddened by the tragedy.
The Newry and Armagh Assemblyman said: “The flags were placed there with the obvious purpose to raise tensions and it is so tragic and unfortunate that this has sadly led to a man’s death. My thoughts are with the family of the deceased as they attempt to come to terms with this awful incident”.
Victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer said Mr Bradley was also a member of the FAIR victims’ group, who “was drowned whilst performing a selfless act of citizenship” in Bessbrook.
“Ozzy, who worked tirelessly for victims in the area, attempted to remove two Irish tricolours from an island in the village’s pond.
“The two Irish tricolours had been reported and indeed they should have been removed but were not. Regrettably Ozzy was then forced into taking matters into his own hands and tragically died as a consequence,” Mr Frazer added.
SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley said his thoughts and prayers are with the family.
“It would appear that the man attempted to swim across Bessbrook Pond with the intention of removing two tricolour flags that had been placed on an island there and replace them with a Union Flag,” he added.
TUV leader Jim Allister also said his thoughts and prayers were with the grieving family.
“This is a most tragic incident, made more so by the fact that inaction over the provocative erection of Irish tricolours led directly to this loss of life.
“These flags ought to have been removed by the lawful authorities. Bessbrook suffered so much at the hands of the IRA and now further republican aggression led to this death.”