A veteran unionist councillor in east Belfast has supported the Orange Order’s decision not to fly the Irish tricolour from its new museum, saying that it would have been “offensive” to most people in the area.
Tommy Sandford, a DUP councillor and a member of the Orange Order, dismissed complaints by the SDLP’s Alban Maginness, who said it was wrong for the Order to leave out the Irish national flag but include other foreign flags.
Flags outside the new state-of-the-art centre include the standards of Canada, Ghana and Togo, representing countries in which there are active Grand Orange Lodges.
The loyal order has said that because the headquarters of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland is located in Belfast, therefore the Union Flag is flown.
Mr Maginness admitted that “it may seem absurd” to suggest that a tricolour should fly from the Orange Order’s headquarters. But he said that if the Institution was going to fly flags from countries in which it had members then it was logical to include it alongside other foreign flags.
However, Mr Sandford, who lives in the nearby Cregagh estate, said that the order had consulted with southern members and “they were happy enough to have the Union Jack flying” to represent them.
The Order’s Schomberg House headquarters and museum is located at the top of the Cregagh Road in what is now a mixed and increasingly middle-class area.
But Mr Sandford said that he believed there would have been local objections if the tricolour was flown. “I would probably say it might have caused a bit of upset among some residents,” he said.
“To the majority, it would have been offensive to them.”
He Sandford said that a lot of Union Flags had been erected on lamp posts in the area recently and added that he had “no objections” to flying the national flag in that manner.
Ukip’s Bob Stoker accused Mr Maginness of “talking a lot of nonsense” because the SDLP had voted to restrict the flying of the Union Flag at Belfast City Hall. He told the Nolan Show: “There is no Grand Lodge of the Republic of Ireland so therefore there is no flag to represent them ... there is no slight against the many Orangemen in the Republic of Ireland.”
But Mr Maginness did praise the Order for “being progressive in the museum itself” and said he would be delighted to visit the new centre.
Former Belfast county grand master Tom Haire said that he did not believe that southern Orangemen would have any complaint about the absence of the tricolour.
He said: “I don’t think they parade with the tricolour ... they still look to this part of the UK for leadership.” The DUP councillor said he believed the centre would be a “tremendous” asset for the Order and that groups from the Republic would be very welcome to visit.