DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has written to defence minister Philip Hammond to express his dismay at the reported removal of an Ulster flag from a canteen at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.
On Saturday the News Letter revealed that many local soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan were feeling betrayed after an Ulster flag in Bastion 1 mess was removed, following a complaint that it was “sectarian”. English, Scottish and Welsh flags remain.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman told the News Letter that the Union flag at the front of the camp is the only official emblem at Bastion.
It is estimated there are around 60 Ulster soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan across a number of regiments. Mr Donaldson, who is on the Defence Select Committee at Westminster, said Northern Ireland personnel currently serving in Afghanistan found the removal of the flag hurtful and insulting.
He wrote: “Although we are the smallest country in the UK, we provide a high proportion of the armed forces who are on operational deployment.
“You will therefore understand my dismay and bewilderment at the news from Camp Bastion that orders have been given to remove the Northern Ireland flag from a canteen/mess as it is deemed by senior officers to be a ‘sectarian’ emblem.
“Northern Ireland personnel in Afghanistan have told me that they regard this decision as hurtful and insulting. While Scottish flags, the English Cross of St George and the Welsh flag are all displayed at many locations throughout Camp Bastion, soldiers from Northern Ireland are now prohibited from displaying the flag of their region of the UK.
“I know you will tell me that the MoD only formally recognises the Union Flag and brigade or regimental standards, yet you turn a blind eye to other flags that are representative of the countries of the UK.
“There are double standards at work here and it is a shame that Northern Ireland is being singled out for this treatment while other flags are ignored. If our soldiers are good enough to serve this country and to display extraordinary courage in doing so, then I ask that the flag they regard as representative of their part of the United Kingdom should also be respected.”
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Fermanagh MLA Tom Elliott questioned the reasons for the removal of the Ulster flag from a canteen and said he plans to contact the MoD about the matter today.