ULSTER Unionist MLA Basil McCrea last night spoke out to oppose his party’s support for flying the Union Flag every day of the year from Belfast City Hall.
Mr McCrea, who told the News Letter that he supported Alliance’s position of only flying the flag on designated days, said that it should not be used as “a political pawn”.
Mr McCrea also criticised a joint DUP-UUP leaflet which attacked Alliance over the issue and was printed in that party’s colours but without the DUP or UUP logos.
However, as the issue threatened to reopen divisions within the UUP, the party’s councillors in Belfast issued a joint statement with their DUP counterparts in which they defended that leaflet and said that the flag was “an important issue”.
The Lagan Valley MLA told the News Letter: “Lisburn City Council, which is unionist-dominated, has had designated days as its policy for a long time.
“Part of that is because we should be doing what is commonplace in the rest of United Kingdom. The Union Flag should not be used as a political pawn – it should be respected properly.
“As for the issue about leaflets, I think that whatever the intentions of the people who put them out, acting in the manner that they did is counter-productive.
“Obviously I am offering a personal view but I am quite firm that this is not the way to proceed in building our community or society. It’s about genuine reconciliation and acting in a responsible manner.”
In their joint statement the DUP and UUP councillors said that a leaked copy of a Belfast City Council consultation on the issue revealed in yesterday’s News Letter supported the claims in their joint leaflet.
That document showed that less than one per cent of those who responded to the consultation support flying the flag only on designated days.
The statement said: “The Alliance Party stands exposed as trying to deceive people. Only yesterday they were disputing the figures on our joint leaflet which said nearly 90 per cent support the retention of the Union Flag on Belfast City Hall. Today, we have learned that the figure is actually in excess of 90 per cent.”
Alliance’s Belfast council leader, Maire Hendron, seized on Mr McCrea’s comments, challenging UUP leader Mike Nesbitt to say whether he supports his councillors in Belfast.
Mrs Hendron said: “I would like to thank Basil for his comments: it shows that at least there is somebody in the UUP with some backbone.
“Now that Basil has come out against the actions of the UUP Belfast councillors, will his leader Mike Nesbitt also come out against his colleagues?”