A mooted ban on the flying of all banners and flags in Belfast – including the Union and Ulster flags – will only serve to stir up tensions, a unionist councillor has warned.
George Dorrian, DUP group leader on Belfast City Council, urged unionists across the city to make their voices heard in a planned public consultation on the matter.
It comes after internal legal advice found that a council bid to force the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to remove all unauthorised banners would have a disproportionate adverse impact on unionists.
The original Sinn Fein motion had sought for the council to take legal action against the department forcing them to take down all paramilitary flags and unauthorised banners erected in the absence of agreed community protocols.
Legal opinion was sought after unionist councillors challenged the motion. The advice found that efforts to remove all banners would adversely and disproportionately impact the PUL (Protestant Unionist Loyalist) community.
As a result, a majority of councillors have decided instead to undertake a city-wide public consultation on the presence of all flags and banners on lampposts and other street furniture.
The motion was put forward by Alliance last Friday and supported by Sinn Fein and the SDLP. The decision is to be ratified at the next full council meeting in October.
While the details of the consultation have not yet been determined, Mr Dorrian said: “People will never buy into this. We have worked hard in recent years on self-regulation of flags and we have made good progress.
“The DUP has consistently opposed the flying of any paramilitary flags. But a sweeping ban on all flags simply will not succeed. The only thing it would do is stir up tensions and reverse years of good work and progress.
“The unionist parties on the council must now come together and urge unionists to make their concerns clear during this consultation.”
Meanwhile, the DfI is facing calls to carry out a safety review after a ‘Soldier F’ banner was removed by officials at the weekend.
SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly made the call after a banner in Lurgan partially fell on Saturday. Police are investigating a report that a vehicle was damaged by wires hanging from the banner.