The Orange Order has distanced itself from claims some members were involved in the erection of an unsanctioned Union Flag in Magherafelt.
The flag pole appeared in the early hours of Wednesday morning in opposition to Mid Ulster District Council, which has planning permission for a £46,000 public artwork at the roundabout on which it now stands.
It was decided 18 months earlier, after a contentious council vote, that a decades-old Union Flag post would be removed from the centre of the town in a bid to provide a “shared space” through the public realm scheme works.
But the decision angered unionist parties and the Orange Order, which said last October that the flag’s eviction from the majority nationalist town would make it “a cold place for unionists”.
William Lennox from the British Truth Forum has admitted he was behind the new flag, and that a group – some of whom he said are Orange Order members – put the new flag up between Tuesday midnight and 1.30am yesterday.
“It was funded by victims, ex-veterans, members of the Orange Order and non members of the Orange Order,” he said.
But a spokesperson for the Orange Order’s Magherafelt district said: “The district was neither responsible for, nor sanctioned, this occurrence.
“Equally, the district did not support, or give permission, for the Union Flag to be removed in the first place.”
Believing those behind the new flag did nothing wrong, Mr Lennox said they didn’t need planning permission 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 to install the post, he said: “We put it up in safety, where there was hardly any traffic. The choice was to go up late at night or in the early hours of the morning.”
He refused to be drawn on the cost of the flag pole and the contractor employed to install it, but said he had made the council aware he intended to put the flag back up.
Calling for its immediate removal, Magherafelt Sinn Fein councillor Darren Totten said its erection was an “attempt to sectarianise the election” and deflect from the RHI scandal.
Police said they are aware of an incident in The Diamond area of Magherafelt in the early hours of Wednesday and that inquiries are ongoing, while a spokesperson for Mid Ulster Council said: “The council will seek to resolve the issue of the unauthorised structure at the location.”