The Orange Order in Magherafelt has broken its silence on the controversial Union flag which is set to come down soon as the town’s £1.9m public realm scheme nears completion.
The Magherafelt lodge said in a statement to the Mid Ulster Mail that they are entitled to feel “outraged” that a publicly funded refurbishment of the town centre could result in the removal of the Union flag.
“This is felt as deeply offensive to our tradition and the ethos of one of the largest community organisations within the Mid Ulster Council area,” they say.
For almost 20 years nationalist politicians have been demanding the removal of the Union flag and calling for the creation of a “shared space” in the town centre.
Even TUV leader Jim Allister entered the row a few years ago, accusing Sinn Fein of trying to cleanse the town of “any British manifestation or attachment which will contribute to making Magherafelt a cold place for unionists”.
The Orange Order point out in their statement that the flagpole at the Diamond roundabout – which is to be revamped as part of the scheme to include a piece of public art – was erected approximately 65 years ago by the local lodge.
“The Orange brethren and Protestant people of the Magherafelt area are disgusted at this deeply offensive act which is a blatant attempt to antagonise the pro-Union community,” they say, stressing they would never give permission for it to be removed.
The local Orange lodge said they objected to the removal of the flagpole by way of written communication to the planning department.
“It appears now to have no place in Mid Ulster Council’s public realm scheme passed and agreed by members of the planning committee with no voicing opposition apart from the membership of Magherafelt District Orange lodge,” they said in a statement.
“As a major stakeholder in this Province the Institution is committed to playing its part in a truly shared future for Northern Ireland. It is to be noted however that many in the council chamber have been campaigning for the removal of the Union flag from the town centre for some period of time in order that a ‘shared space’ be created.
“It is to be further noted that the membership of the District lodge state that they are most in favour of future development of our town centre to enhance current state of facilities and utilities, footway, lighting etc, but reject the said inclusion of the removal of our Union flag.”
The lodge goes on to express astonishment at memorials, plaques and flags which are on display throughout the area, particularly in the areas of Magherafelt, Swatragh, Bellaghy, Maghera and the Loup, containing images and tributes “supporting various persons and proscribed organisations glorifying their acts of a savage terrorist campaign some of which resulted in the death of innocent civilians”.
Pointing out that 333 Orange brethren were murdered during the Troubles, including four from the lodge, they say these memorials were allowed to be displayed while an “unjustified and unprovoked” attack is made against the beliefs and traditions of the Orange brethren by the intention to remove the Union flag and flag pole and the rejection to have it erected or mounted anywhere covered by the public realm.