Sinn Fein accused of disrespect over flag decision
Members of Mid Ulster District Council have rejected a proposal calling for Council to apologise for not flying the Union Flag at half mast from Council buildings following the passing of HRH Prince Philip.
The vote on the proposal, brought forward by DUP group leader, Councillor Paul McLean was split down ideological lines. All 25 nationalist/republican councillors voted against the proposal while all 15 unionist councillors voted in support.
Welcoming members to a special meeting of Council, called for by Cllr McLean, Council’s Chair, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan sent his condolences to those across the district who are suffering following the loss of Prince Philip.
However, he was critical of the DUP’s response, accusing the party of attempting to “run roughshod” over the democratic decision making process.
“Little or no respect was shown to democracy if utterances from the DUP in the pages of local newspapers were anything to go by,” said the Chair.
“Their desire to run roughshod over the democratic decision making of this Council did not quite show respect to the citizens of this district.
“The idea that Council is some kind of cold house for unionism is not reflected in real life. This Council does not tolerate inequality and discrimination in any form, in fact, our flag policy ensures that.”
Councillor McLean explained the meeting had been called to allow unionists to vent their “disgust” at the “disrespectful manner” in which the many requests made to Council to fly the Union Flag at half mast have been dealt with.
“We appreciate that council officers are bound by the policy,” he said.
“However, we know that on other occasions policy has been set aside
and, in our opinion, ‘“if there is a will there is a way’, however, Sinn Fein chose on this occasion for this not to happen.”
“Unionists may only make up 15 of the 40 members but we have a right
to be heard and treated with respect.
He then put forward his proposal calling on Council to forward a letter to the Royal Family apologising for their disrespectful behaviour in not flying the flag at half-mast and offer Her Majesty the Queen and her family their deepest sympathy.
His party colleague, Councillor Clement Cuthbertson seconded the proposal and warned the decision has “shattered any confidence the unionist community” had left in Council.
“Mid Ulster District Council’s decision not to fly the Union Flag at half mast during the period of national mourning is totally disgusting,” said Cllr Cuthbertson.
“It has put a dark cloud over this council and has done immense harm to its reputation. It has completely shattered any confidence the unionist community has left in this Council.
“Sinn Fein often preach about equality and respect, they simply don’t know the meaning of the words here in Mid Ulster. Once republicans have a majority in an area, equality and respect are quickly forgotten about.”
Councillor Trevor Wilson said the situation was a good example of why his community view with great disbelief the claim Sinn Fein would accommodate the unionist community in any united Ireland.
“I fully understand Council has a policy of no flags but it could have been set aside on exceptional circumstances and I would certainly argue this was one of those exceptional circumstances,” said the Ulster Unionist Party councillor.
“All of this makes its difficult to believe that Sinn Fein would do great things to accommodate the unionist and British identity in a united Ireland when they can’t even manage to accommodate it in the United Kingdom.”
Councillor Sean McPeake said the issue was simply a ‘diversionary tactic’ used by the DUP to deflect criticism from their supporters.
Independent Councillor Dan Kerr said that while there is a family grieving it is important to remember local families who lost loved ones to ‘British Crown Forces’ as well.
“Flying the flag would be hugely insulting to the victims of British state violence,” he said.
Councillor Kim Ashton said Sinn Fein has underestimated the level of anger in the unionist community as a result of this decision and added the “concern and anger at this decision needs to be acknowledged”.
SDLP group leader, Councillor Malachy Quinn expressed his disappointment in the reaction to Council’s policy.
“I can somewhat understand where the anger is coming from but our offices were attacked because this topic was used by unionist politicians to rile people up,” he said.
“Only two weeks ago, petrol bombs were thrown on the streets of Cookstown because of the anger around Brexit, we need to focus on the real issues.”
Independent councillor Barry Monteith extended his solidarity to Council staff and reminded everyone that staff only implement the decisions made by councillors.
“I can acknowledge the hurt and grief that is out there but I believe Council was right in standing by its decision,” he said.
Bringing the debate to a close, the Chair said it was “very unfortunate” that no unionist had chosen to condemn the vandalism of Council offices and reiterated Council’s stance on the flying of flags.
“Flags are designed to mark territory that is what they do, our council buildings right across Mid Ulster are neutral,” he said.
Councillor McLean’s proposal was then put to a vote. It was defeated with the 25 Aontu, SDLP, Sinn Fein and independent members present voting against it while the 15 DUP and UUP members present voted in support of it.
Speaking after the meeting Councillor Paul McLean said it was “ironic” Sinn Fein has accused the DUP of deflecting during the meeting.
“It was ironic for Sinn Fein to use such a tactic bearing in mind the protocol and Brexit are beyond the remit of councillors,” said Cllr McLean.
“To state that what we are doing is deflection makes no sense, as the issues they mention have no relevance to the authority we have as councillors.”
Sinn Fein was asked for a response to this comment.
Cathal Mallaghan: Council Chair, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan reminded the chamber Mid Ulster’s council buildings are neutral welcoming places.
Paul McLean: DUP group leader Councillor Paul McLean, called on Council to apologise for not flying the Union Flag at half mast.
Graffiti Cookstown office: The graffiti daubed on Cookstown council offices.
Adam Morton , Local Democracy Reporting Service