SINN Fein is being accused of "rank hypocrisy" for trying to introduce the Irish tricolour into Newry council against formal policy, while overseeing a purge of British emblems from councils across the Province.
The issue arose after the Irish national gymnastics team asked Newry council to relax its strict "no flags or emblems" policy on council property for an event in the city's sports centre planned for May.
Sinn Fein is objecting to – and in many cases pressing to remove British emblems – like plaques, statues and portraits from councils in some seven areas across the Province including Craigavon, Banbridge and Limavady.
A Newry council equality officer's report warned councillors that the council could be in legal difficulties if its own strict "no flags or emblems" policy was set aside to allow use of the tricolour for the Irish gymnastics event.
Newry and Mourne UKIP (UK Independence Party) Councillor Henry Reilly said that as the council refused to allow the Union flag to be flown at similar events on council property before, "there should be no option here but to disallow the request to fly the tricolour at the gymnastics event".
Newry Sinn Fein Councillor Pat McGinn said it was time to review the matter and develop "a new forward-looking and challenging flags and emblems policy" which would promote "equality and good relations".
He was also adamant that the Newry gymnastics event should not be drawn into debates in other councils. A national sporting championship "is not the type of event that should be drawn into or equated with the more complex and highly sensitive argument in relation to the flying of flags and emblems throughout the north of Ireland," he added.
The council voted to allow the playing of the Irish national anthem at the event, but not to allow the flying of the tricolour.
Some members of other councils across the Province were aghast.
"Sinn Fein is currently pressing to remove British emblems including a portrait of the Queen at Craigavon Borough Council, with similar campaigns at many other councils," said Craigavon DUP councillor Stephen Moutray. "So it is a case of extreme double standards and rank hypocrisy for them to be trying to set aside Newry council's own strict neutrality policy in order to allow the Irish national anthem and tricolour to be freely used there."
Meanwhile, the Equality Commission confirmed it has been challenging Newry and Mourne District Council for almost a year and a half over a city centre play park it formally named after hunger striker Raymond McCreesh. Councillor Henry Reilly said the naming was "highly offensive" to unionists. He questioned whether naming a playground after an IRA man demonstrated "equality".