THE DUP has lodged a formal complaint with the Equality Commission over the decision by Belfast City Council to stop flying the Union Flag all year round.
Belfast City Council voted in December to fly the Union Flag from the City Hall on 20 statutory days, and also voted to remove it completely from the Ulster Hall and council offices at Duncrue.
The DUP initially submitted a complaint to Belfast City Council about the decision which was voted through by Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party.
However yesterday it was indicated at a meeting of the council’s strategic policy and resources committee that the decision had been upheld.
As a consequence, DUP councillor John Hussey said his party has now moved to the next stage, by submitting a complaint about the flag decision to the Equality Commission.
“We are not surprised that the internal investigation has reached the conclusion the council did nothing wrong,” he said.
“However, it does not address seriously a number of the issues raised in the DUP’s complaint, ignores some and seeks to dodge others.
“Therefore, the DUP will now move to the next stage and submit a formal complaint to the Equality Commission about the process and decision on the removal of the Union Flag.
“This decision has proven to be disastrous for the city, good relations and a shared future. The DUP will exhaust any avenues open to it to rectify this mistake and the harm it has caused.”
A spokesman for Belfast City Council said: “Belfast City Council can confirm that the strategic policy and resources committee today received the findings of its internal investigation into complaints on the Union Flag Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA). We will be responding to the complainants in due course and until then we cannot comment further.”
Meanwhile, Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle yesterday hit back at a claim by DUP MLA Gordon Dunne that the media has “exploited” and “overplayed” the impact of flag protests.
Mr Dunne told the Assembly’s enterprise committee: “There is no doubt the media have overplayed the whole thing in relation to protests and that in itself has been detrimental in terms of bringing people into Belfast.
“The images of Northern Ireland in the last two months have been very negative.
“They’ve been wrong and the media certainly exploited it and they have used it and abused it.”
Mr Lyttle hit back, saying: “While I may not agree with every press story it is a key part of any democracy for there to be freedom of the press.
“It is therefore outrageously ill-judged and anti-democratic for DUP MLA Gordon Dunne to attack the media for shining a light on the distribution of 40,000 misleading leaflets, the systematic targeting of men, women and children in my party, the attempted murder of PSNI officers and organised violence on our streets.
“It is the responsibility of the protestors and those carrying out the violence for the negative news stories that are being beamed out from Northern Ireland.”
The number of activists taking part in protests in support of the Union Flag at Belfast City Hall has been dropping.
On Monday night, just six protestors turned up amid a heavy police presence to stage a demonstration. Previous meetings saw hundreds of protestors.
And last night only small numbers of protests took part in the weekly Friday afternoon Operation Standstill.
A protest took place outside Bangor PSNI station yesterday over the arrest of a freelance photographer, while general flag protests took place last night in Ballyclare, Carrickfergus, Cloughfern, Enniskillen, Larne, east Belfast and Cambrai Street in Belfast. The PSNI said Browns Square on the Shankill Road was closed due to a protest and advised motorists to approach the area with care or take an alternative route.
One woman was hit by a car during a flag protest in Londonderry. She was taken to hospital for treatment for non-serious injuries following the collision on Glendermott Road at about 6.50pm, police said.
A PSNI spokesman said: “Police would like to take this opportunity to remind those participating in protests and those organising protests of the dangers of standing in the middle of busy roads during the hours of darkness.”
A flag protest is also currently being planned to take place in London on February 18.