February 19 is one of 16 UK-wide days on which the national emblem is supposed to be flown on government buildings (with St Patrick’s Day being a 17th one, specific to Northern Ireland).
But in light of the controversy surrounding Prince Andrew’s links to Jeffrey Epstein – and his mother’s decision to effectively end his status as a public royal – it was argued at Belfast City Council today that it is no longer right for the flag to be flown in his honour.
The council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee debated the matter, with the SDLP leading the charge for its removal, and Alliance and Sinn Fein following suit – and the DUP opposing the move.
SDLP man Donal Lyons said he was “more than happy” to simply move the designated day now allocated to Andrew to another date, so the flag is still flown the same number of times.
The DUP’s six members of the committee voted against this – although 12 members of the SDLP, SF and Alliance out-voted them.
Asked to set out the DUP’s reasoning, the party press office released a short statement in the name of Brian Kingston, the party’s leader on the council, saying that A) the Westminster government decides on what the designated days should be, and B) he has not been found guilty of any offence.
This runs contrary to the feeling of some other DUP members however; in Carrickfergus for example, MLA Davy Hilditch and others are calling for Prince Andrew Way to be renamed.
‘WE ARE NOT BLIND TO CONCERNS...’:
The DUP statement, in full, says: “The position of DUP Councillors is that we should abide by our policy of implementing the flag days designated by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sports at Westminster.
“We’re certainly not blind to the allegations of gross misconduct by Prince Andrew and we share in the deep concern about these, but we should await the outcome of the trial.
“We’re also aware that the SDLP and Sinn Fein have form on the flying of the Union Flag from our City Hall, that they voted to remove it completely, every day of the year, in 2012, so we’re not blind to that either.”
SDLP man Donal Lyons responded by saying: “He has been stripped of all his royal duties, military honours and his family have distanced themselves from him... but still the DUP want to see him honoured.”
Prince Andrew had been friends with Jeffrey Epstein for years before revelations began surfacing publicly that the middle-aged billionaire’s assistant Ghislaine Maxwell was luring females on a daily basis – many of them underage – to give Epstein “massages”, which in reality meant using them for sex.
In 2008 he was convicted of what amounted to only a small sample charge of procuring sex with an underage girl, for which he got an 18 month term in a minimum-security jail which he was allowed to wander in and out of.
The rumours about the full extent of his offending continued to grow, but Epstein died in 2019 before a full-scale case against him could be launched.
NEWSNIGHT INTERVIEW: ‘I AM JUST TOO HONOURABLE’
Prince Andrew said he stayed with Epstein in New York for a three-day spell in 2010, but said that he had only done so to directly tell Epstein he was breaking off all ties.
Specifically, this is what he told Newsnight:
Emily Maitlis: I’m just trying to work this out because you said you went to break up the relationship and yet you stayed at that New York mansion several days. I’m wondering how long?
Prince Andrew: But I was doing a number of other things while I was there.
EM: But you were staying at the house…
EM: ...of a convicted sex offender.
PA: It was a convenient place to stay. I mean I’ve gone through this in my mind so many times.
At the end of the day, with a benefit of all the hindsight that one can have, it was definitely the wrong thing to do. But at the time I felt it was the honourable and right thing to do and I admit fully that my judgement was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable but that’s just the way it is.
One of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Giuffre, alleges she had sex with Andrew three times while aged 17 and under control of Epstein; Andrew denies this.
It has been suggested by sources close to the Prince that a picture showing him with Virginia Giuffre and Maxwell could have been doctored; the prince says he has no memory of the photo bring taken, or even meeting her.
The accuser launched a civil case against Andrew last year, seeking damages.
Andrew is not charged with any crime.
Nevertheless the Queen stripped him of all military titles and duties this month.
Buckingham Palace said: “With The Queen’s approval and agreement, The Duke of York’s military affiliations and Royal patronages have been returned to The Queen.
“The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen.”
‘DISGRACEFUL TO SUGGEST EVIDENCE WAS DOCTORED’:
Councillor Lyons also went on to say today that “to suggest a payday is being sought, to suggest that photographic evidence is doctored, or to use terms like false memories... is nothing short of disgraceful and sends an appalling message to women and girls”.
SDLP press officer Martin McAuley said “the DUP is taking a softer line on Prince Andrew than his own mother,” while SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said the party position is “bonkers”.
Davy Hilditch told the News Letter: “I think Belfast City Council business is their business, and no business of mine to be honest. I only deal with East Antrim.
“What Belfast councillors do, I’ve no jurisdiction over.
“A lot of people sit on councils and use their individual thoughts on these matters. My individual thoughts would maybe be somewhat different – and I’d just leave it at that.”
However UUP man Jim Rodgers, who has spent 28 years on Belfast council (but does not sit on the committee that met today), sided with the DUP’s decision.
He said: “Regardless who the person is, you’re innocent until proven guilty. To me until this happens the flag should still be flown – even though I’ve my own personal views about the prince.
“He hasn’t been found guilty of any offence. There’s been all sorts of claims. They may be right. They may be wrong.
“But whilst that’s still around, as far as I’m concerned the flag should still be flown.
“I am very concerned at how he handled this whole matter, and others have agreed with me.
“But again I don’t think the flag... at this stage should have been an issue until we see the outcome of these allegations against the Prince.”
It is expected the matter will now come before Belfast City Council’s full council meeting in February for ratification.
When are the designated days for flag-flying in the UK?
9 January: Birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge
20 January: Birthday of the Countess of Wessex
6 February: Her Majesty’s Accession
19 February: Birthday of the Duke of York
1 March: St David’s Day (in Wales)
8 March: Commonwealth Day (second Monday in March)
10 March: Birthday of the Earl of Wessex
17 March: St. Patrick’s Day (in Northern Ireland)
21 April: Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen
23 April: St George’s Day (in England)
2 June: Coronation Day
10 June: Birthday of the Duke of Edinburgh
12 June: Official celebration of Her Majesty’s Birthday
21 June: Birthday of the Duke of Cambridge
17 July: Birthday of the Duchess of Cornwall
15 August: Birthday of the Princess Royal
14 November: Remembrance Day (second Sunday in November)
14 November: Birthday of the Prince of Wales
20 November: Her Majesty’s Wedding Day
30 November: St Andrew’s Day (in Scotland)
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