Anti-sectarianism campaigner Trevor Ringland has hit out at the erection of UVF flags across east Belfast.
The former Co-Chairman of the NI Conservatives said the flags have appeared on Bloomfield Avenue, Beersbridge Road, Avoniel Park, Albertbridge Road, Newtownards Road and Templemore Avenue.
“UVF flags have been erected in east Belfast which is causing some hurt and which is really about marking out territory,” he told the News Letter.
“It is also time the historic loyalists stood down completely and let the police deal with the criminal gangs wearing their clothes that supply drugs to our young people, blighting their lives and is one of the reasons for the high levels of young suicides.”
Fermanagh based terror victims campaigner Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United said there was also an ongoing problem with terrorist emblems along the border.
“Innocent Victims United opposes the display of flags, emblems and graffiti which promotes and glorifies terrorism,” he said. “Across this region there continues to be a form of terrorism idolatry practiced by some which is hampering the development of this place and the people who live and work here. Across our borderlands and within many of our urban centres are emblems which promote republican terrorism and within urban centres are to be found the vestiges of loyalist terrorism”.
He also queried what impact the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition has had since it was set up under the Fresh Start Agreement in 2016.
UUP MLA Doug Beattie, the party’s representative on the commission, said it needed to be re-empowered - or closed down.
“These types of flags and certain types of memorials – including murals - are being erected in both loyalist and republican districts by what are little more than organised crime groups who want to mark territory and seek to control areas and communities so they can sell their drugs and engage in other forms of criminality,” he said. “This was very evident in the INLA show of strength involving illegal weapons at the recent funeral of child killer Martin McElkerney.
“If we as a society are serious about dealing with the issues around flags and identity, we need to re-empower the Flags Identity and Culture and Traditions Commission which has already done a great deal of work and on which all five parties are represented, or close it down and seek an alternative solution.
“Twenty-one years after the Belfast Agreement there is absolutely no reason for the continued existence of any paramilitary groups and that includes visible signs of them.”