Sinn Fein is to ask the Equality Commission to intervene over a decision to fly an armed forces flag from Belfast City Hall.
In a surprise move, a motion calling for the contentious flag to be flown for six days was passed during a specially convened meeting of the City Council last night.
A proposal put forward by the DUP’s Councillor Lee Reynolds was won by 27 votes to 22 after the Alliance Party, which holds the balance of power, sided with unionists.
During the 45-minute sitting Cllr Reynolds said flying the flag was a “small gesture”.
“It is a small gesture but a significant one,” he said. “Last year over 4,000 flags were flown around the country over many historic, iconic buildings. The building we have to offer is historic, iconic and appropriate. The request is for six days. This is the level of recognition being sought and is the level of recognition that is deserved.”
The Ministry of Defence had written to Belfast City Council requesting that the armed forces flag be erected from June 25 to June 30 as part of a UK-wide tribute. The council, which is currently conducting an equality impact assessment on the flying of the Union flag and levels of military related memorabilia in City Hall, was unsurprisingly split down unionist, nationalist lines.
Speaking after the meeting Jim McVeigh, who heads the Sinn Fein grouping in Belfast City Council said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision.
“The fact of the matter is that this is a divisive issue and at a time when we have a public consultation about reducing the flying of flags we are now putting an even more divisive one up,” he said.
“We will be meeting with the Equality Commission over this and are asking them to intervene. We think this is a mistake running contrary to the guidance that the Equality Commission has provided to the council. This clearly flies in the face of that guidance.”
In previous years the armed forces flag has been flown over Belfast City Hall for just one day — June 30. However an amendment from the Alliance Party’s Maire Hendron making a similar offer was defeated by 43 votes to six.
Cllr Hendron said: “Why are we always celebrating by flying flags or parading in a city that is so divided. Are we so lacking imagination or can we not live and let live?”
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Bob Stoker, whose son was injured while serving in Afghanistan said: “It is appropriate for Belfast to show gratitude to the armed forces.
The amount of people I am doing work for who come from a nationalist background and who are proud to be in the armed forces is surprising.
In the past they too have felt hurt that there was not a symbol to recognise the sacrifice they make and their sacrifice is double because their families are shunned in some communities.”