Sinn Fein has been accused of “stirring up tensions” in Lisburn after party activists circulated a petition against the flying of Union and Northern Ireland flags at a major road junction in the area.
Lagan Valley DUP MLA Paul Givan says he has been approached by residents of the Thaxton Village area of the city who are unhappy about the republican party’s call for the flags to be removed. And he accused Sinn Fein of opting for “the politics of seeking cultural division” in a bid to “make itself relevant” ahead of next year’s local government election.
Posting on his Facebook page he wrote: “Sinn Fein representatives have been asking people to sign a petition against the Union & Ulster flags on the main roundabout at the junction of the North Feeder Road and Prince William Road. I have received complaints from residents in Thaxton about their activities.
“It is no coincidence that local government elections take place next year and Sinn Fein, with no elected representative anywhere in Lisburn, is trying to make itself relevant. They have been promoting their Lisburn North candidate in the area oblivious to the fact that Thaxton Village and other housing developments along the North Feeder Road isn’t actually in the Lisburn North electoral ward but falls within Killultagh that stretches from Glenavy to Maghaberry into Ballymacash and Thaxton.
“Instead of campaigning on bread butter issues they choose the politics of seeking cultural division.
“I have represented this part of Lisburn from 2005 when I was first a councillor and having lived in the area we always had a respectful community living peaceable with our neighbours irrespective of anyone’s background.
“Sinn Féin’s agenda to divide our community will not succeed.”
Speaking to the News Letter, Mr Givan said the issue “kicked off” after Joe Duffy, who has been selected by Sinn Fein to stand in the Lisburn North DEA in the local government election next May, posted a picture of himself in front of the flags with the message: “Out engaging with residents today in relation to the election (sic) of flags in North Lisburn....I am calling for these flags to be removed and only to fly in a respectful manner and not used to intimidate or mark out territory.”
Mr Duffy’s post and news of the Sinn Fein petition has received an angry reaction from many unionists and loyalists on social media, and Mr Givan has accused the republican party of trying to “antagonise” people in the area.
“I have seen comments on Facebook from people suggesting going out and putting flags up on every lamppost in the area, which obviously isn’t something I would want to see,” the DUP man added.
“We are just trying to keep people calm, but what Sinn Fein have done has stirred up tensions and they have wound people up, and this talk of putting flags up on every lamppost is a reaction to what they have done.”
Responding to the DUP man’s comments, Mr Duffy said: “Sinn Féin is not aware of any petition in Thaxton Village in Lisburn on the issue of flags. However, flags, emblems and symbols should never be used to intimidate, harass or mark out territory.
“In my view, these flags have been deliberately placed close to mixed housing developments and have been placed there to mark out territory and stoke fear and community tension.
“The comments by Paul Givan, the man responsible for the disgraceful decision to cut Líofa funding for disadvantaged children to learn Irish, demonstrate a complete lack of leadership on his behalf.
“Mr Givan would serve the people of this mixed area better by calling on those responsible to remove the flags so people can get on with their everyday lives free from fear.”