Belfast City Council has voted to take legal action in a bid to force the Department for Infrastructure to take action to remove paramilitary flags and banners supporting British Army regiments from lampposts across Belfast.
A motion calling on the council to take legal action to force the department to remove the banners from along public highways was put to a special meeting of Belfast City Council this evening.
The motion was submitted in the name of the council's Sinn Fein group leader Councillor Ciaran Beattie and signed by 13 of the republican party's councillors.
After more than 40 minutes of debate, during which amendments put forward by People Before Profit, Alliance and the SDLP were all defeated, the Sinn Fein motion was passed by 34 votes to 18 with three 'no votes'.
Although the motion doesn't specifically mention 'Soldier F' or the Parachute Regiment, the call for legal action comes after banners displaying the Parachute Regiment insignia and messages of support for the former paratrooper who is due to go on trial over the deaths of two civilians in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday, and other British soldiers in general, have been erected in town's and villages across Northern Ireland.
The erection of the flags and banners has proven contentious in some areas, including Belfast's Lisburn Road, with many nationalist and republican politicians calling for them to be taken down.
The Sinn Fein motion states: “This council is alarmed at the increasing number of offensive displays of banners and paramilitary flags across Belfast.
"Paramilitary flags and banners supporting British regiments are being used to divide, offend and cause hurt to victims.
"The British Ministry of Defence and the Parachute Regiment do not endorse these flags or banners and have stated they should only be displayed in certain circumstances.
"Re-traumatising victims with offensive displays is wrong and should have no place in our society.
"Standing by and allowing our citizens to be divided and hurt is no longer an option.
"This council agrees to take legal action against the Department for Infrastructure, enforcing them to remove:
"1. all paramilitary flags, unless permission is granted by the Department for Infrastructure with protocols that protect citizens; and
"2. all banners without planning permission on Department for Infrastructure property, unless permission is granted with protocols that protect citizens."
Speaking during the meeting, PUP Cllr Billy Hutchinson branded the motion "very dangerous and very divisive" and said the practicalities would be "very difficult" as neither DfI nor the police would take action to remove flags.
UUP Cllr Jim Rodgers said it was "most regrettable" that the motion had been brought to the council on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.
He stressed that the UUP is opposed to sectarian flags, paramilitary flags and paramilitary organisations, but said he and his party colleagues would not be supporting the motion.
PUP Cllr John Kyle described the motion as "divisive and ill-judged" and said culture and identity are important and should be celebrated in a respectful way.
He said he was not denying that some banners and flags can intimidate and cause offence, and said in those circumstances they should not be flown. But he added that he would not be supporting what could amount to "a blanket ban on certain elements of culture"