Storm over tricolour flying at Stormont

The Irish tricolour and another unsanctioned flag flew over Parliament Buildings for around 10 minutes on Wednesday
The Irish tricolour and another unsanctioned flag flew over Parliament Buildings for around 10 minutes on Wednesday

Unionists have demanded answers after an Irish tricolour was run up the main flagpole of Parliament Buildings at Stormont.

It is understood those responsible accessed the pole on the roof of the landmark building in east Belfast without official permission.

The Irish Republic’s national flag flew above the home of Northern Ireland’s devolved Assembly for around 10 minutes before it was removed. Another unsanctioned flag was erected on an adjacent pole at the same time the tricolour was raised.

Major renovation work has been taking place on the roof this year so more people have had access than in normal circumstances.

DUP MLA Peter Weir condemned what he branded a “provocative” act and called for an Assembly investigation.

“Whatever the motivation behind this there must be a full explanation from the Assembly as to who had access to the flagpoles and who was responsible for this action,” he said.

“I have been assured by the Assembly that these were rogue actions and are being fully investigated.”

Ulster Unionist MP and MLA Tom Elliott said: “It was no doubt done to attract attention and cause offence and annoyance. The Ulster Unionist Party will be seeking a full explanation of how this could happen.

“We are perfectly clear that the Union Flag is the only flag that should fly over Stormont in order to reflect and respect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.”

The PUP has said the matter should be probed by the police.

But Sinn Fein accused unionists of over-reacting.

Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay tweeted: “Reaction of unionist politicians to Irish flag over Stormont a bit of a storm in a teacup. Need a flag policy that is inclusive not exclusive.”

The flying of flags on official buildings in Northern Ireland is a sensitive issue.

In December 2012, a decision by Belfast City Council to limit the flying of the Union Flag over City Hall triggered months of loyalist protests, some of which descended into violence.

Like the policy adopted at City Hall, the Union Flag is only flown on Parliament Buildings on a number of designated days each year.

But politicians have to date failed to agree a comprehensive framework for managing the flying of flags on public buildings and on lamp posts in republican and loyalist communities across Northern Ireland.

The PSNI said it was aware of the incident and was investigating the circumstances.

An Assembly spokeswoman said: “The Northern Ireland Assembly was made aware that two flags were flown without permission from the roof of Parliament Buildings for a short time today.

“The roof and the fourth floor of Parliament Buildings are currently a construction site under the control of building contractors.

“As soon as the Assembly was made aware of the incident, the flags were removed. The Assembly is investigating the incident.”

Assembly officials are due to brief elected members who sit on the Assembly Commission body on the incident on Thursday.