Concerns raised over police Union Flag warning

The Union Flag flying from Belfast City Hall
The Union Flag flying from Belfast City Hall

Concerns have been raised about a police warning that erection of Union Flags on the Ormeau Road in Belfast will be treated as a breach of the peace.

The police said inquiries showed tensions were “particularly heightened” by the number of flags being put up.

In a statement to the BBC, the police said: “As a result, police have directed that any future erection of flags on this part of the Ormeau Road will be treated as a breach of the peace. Community representatives have been spoken to and advised of this.”

Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey welcomed the PSNI’s announcement.

“This is an important milestone and comes after meetings with the PSNI and others in the wider local community,” he said.

“I met with the PSNI’s senior leadership team in south and east Belfast. This followed an incident where police officers stood by and watched as flags were put up.

“I told them that I did not want to see a repeat of what happened.

“I want to see all traditions respected in a way that does not cause offence to anyone in the community.

“This announcement from the PSNI is to be welcomed and I will continue to meet with them to see how we can take this initiative forward.”

But DUP MP Gregory Campbell said the police actions were setting an unworkable precedent.

“People are going to say ‘you have implemented this in that area of south Belfast, so you must also apply it now in my area also’.”

He said there were similar mixed areas in Enniskillen, Coleraine and Limavady where Irish tricolours were currently flying in a similar manner.

The PUP’s Billy Hutchinson responded that he also wanted to PSNI to issue a similar warning to republicans about putting up their flags.

He described the PSNI decision as “catastrophic” and pressed them to meet him today in order to discuss enforcement against republicans.

“It is the people who react against the Union Flag that are causing a breach of the peace, not the people who put up the flag,” he added.

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United called on the police to deal with paramilitary signs and emblems along the border.

“Where is the cry for the removal of the dozens of illegal Memorials which have been erected to terrorists, the bill-boards, signage and other graffiti which glorifies terrorism and which blights our landscape,” he said.

“Across the Fermanagh, Tyrone, Londonderry and Armagh borderlands communities are faced with the vestiges of terrorism every single day they go about their business. We are almost 20 years down the road from the first ceasefires but in many ways the look of these borderland areas has not significantly changed - the glorification and romanticisation of terrorism remains very much in people’s faces. For some these areas very much remain a cold house for them”.