MLAs seem slow to slam IRA signs

IRA volunteer Tony Ahern honoured by republicans close to Rosslea
IRA volunteer Tony Ahern honoured by republicans close to Rosslea

MLAs who have slammed the flying of UVF flags in east Belfast have declined an opportunity to offer direct criticism of IRA monuments and signs which are distressing terror victims along the border.

Over the last week various parties have been outspoken about UVF flags.

Speaking after a Policing Board meeting discussed the issue, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said people “don’t really care about flags when they are in areas where they are accepted. But, when they start appearing around interfaces, it is clearly a huge step backwards and raises tensions.

“The PSNI are saying it’s not their job to take down flags but it is their job to keep the peace. To take a policy of inactivity is not a policy at all.”

On the same issue, SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt said: “The proliferation of UVF flags in south and east Belfast is counterproductive. It does nothing to build trust and damages community relations.”

In recent weeks Alliance Party MLA Chris Lyttle said the manner of the erection of UVF flags in east Belfast by “organisations regarded as paramilitary” was “sinister” and called for their removal.

In light of these stances, the News Letter asked Mr Kelly, Mr McDevitt and Mr Lyttle to comment on border victims’ groups’ concerns about IRA monuments, signs and flags, and the review of flags policy. But none of the politicians directly criticised IRA symbols.

In response, an SDLP spokeswoman sent the News Letter the SDLP’s policy paper on flags, adding: “This reflects the party position on the flying of flags.”

Mr Lyttle responded that his party position was that OFMDFM “needs to accept their responsibility” to deliver a protocol on the matter. “In the absence of such a protocol, community relations remain at risk,” he added.

The News Letter asked Mr Kelly for comment on Friday but none had been received by last night.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Conservative spokesman Trevor Ringland said that if paramilitary groups are going to be glorified, then their history of terror must be known.

Mr Ringland said: “If the UVF and IRA insist on celebrating what they achieved then it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that our children know the full extent of the hurt that their actions caused to so many in our society.”

He added: “We should all be saying to our innocent victims ‘never again will we allow this to happen on this island’. This should be foremost to the front of our minds.

“The UVF, UDA and IRA were always trying to take life while the security forces were mostly focused on saving it.

“Tremendous trauma was caused to innocent victims.”