Royal British Legion flags controversially removed and burned by a Church of Ireland rector have been replaced following a donation from a family business in England.
Rev Kingsley Sutton last year removed the Royal British Legion flags at St Patrick’s and St Mary’s Church of Ireland churches in Newry and replaced them with white flags featuring a red heart.
At the time, he told the congregations that he removed the flags because he wanted to “make a break” from the past, before issuing a “full and unreserved” apology.
The move proved controversial with parishioners and Rev Sutton left his position in Newry shortly afterwards.
A CoI spokesman said at the time that the rector had been asked to “step back from ministry” after acting “against the clear instruction of the bishop in removing” the flags.
New Royal British Legion (RBL) standards were dedicated at a ceremony attended by Bishop of Down and Dromore Harold Miller in St Mary’s Church yesterday afternoon.
The new flags were donated by Newton and Newton, a business in England which contacted the local branch of the Royal British Legion after reading about the controversy.
Colin Whiteside, chairman of the RBL, Newry Branch, said it was good to draw a line under the controversy.
He said: “Obviously there was some furore last year when the old standards were taken down. They were laid up for safe keeping in the church and they should never really have been touched again.
“Whenever this happened there was a fair bit of disquiet amongst the people here and a firm over in England called Newton and Newton – which manufactures flags, standards, bunting, that type of thing – contacted us to say that they would supply two new standards to replace the ones that had been destroyed.
“They just couldn’t believe that somebody would do that so they got in touch and offered to help free of charge.
“They were so taken aback by what happened that they supplied us with the two new standards – one for the ladies section and one for the men’s section.
“That flag was hung up there in the 1960s and that was the first standard the Branch had since the 1940s so obviously it was very significant to us. They were destroyed and there isn’t anything we can do about that now so we are grateful to be filling the gap that was left.
“We are very pleased here about what Newton and Newton have done for us and we are obviously pleased to get a new dedicated standard back in the church where we feel there should be one.”
The Legion left Altnaveigh House at 3pm yesterday for the dedication service at St Mary’s Church at 4pm.