The Sinn Fein mayor of Limavady has come under fire after calling for the town to be “cleansed” of flags.
The mayor hit out at what he said were “too many unionist flags and Orange parades” in the town.
Unionists described the comments by Cathal McLaughlin as “shocking” and said he needed to recognise Limavady lay within the United Kingdom.
In the latest episode in an ongoing row, Mr McLaughin said the prevalence of the emblems and marches were hampering efforts to heal divisions.
He also said that there had been no reciprocation to the removal of tricolour flags earlier this year, which was facilitated by his party.
“The proliferation of unionist flags is a disgrace,” he said. “This sends out a menacing signal to tourists whom we are actively trying to attract to this borough.”
The new rift follows years of irate political exchanges in Limavady over the issue of flags.
Matters came to a head last summer when TUV councillor Boyd Douglas flouted a ‘no flag’ policy and produced a Union flag in the council chamber, leading to normal business being suspended.
His actions followed the controversial 2011 mayoral appointment of former IRA man and Sinn Fein councillor Sean McGlinchey, who was involved in a car bombing that killed six people in 1973.
The current mayor said a renewed focus was needed, adding it was time for unionist representatives in Limavady to show leadership and get the flags down.
“Contentious parades will, if left unresolved, continue to enable and empower anti-peace process elements while disempowering progressive individuals, groups and parties who have signed up to a peaceful and democratic way forward,” Mr McLaughlin said.
“A window of opportunity exists, let us not squander it. I want to see Bovally and Limavady town centre cleansed of flags and a significant reduction in the number of parades which bring Limavady to a standstill every summer.”
Ulster Unionist councillor Edwin Stevenson described it as “interesting and shocking” that the mayor has called for Limavady to be “cleansed” of flags.
“What are these unionist flags? In most cases, it is the Union flag of the United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” he said.
“2012 is an important year for all in Limavady with the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, in which many Northern Ireland sport stars are playing a part. Also, for unionists it marks the 100th Anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant by nearly half a million people in 1912.
“Geography may not be his strongest point, but, surely our mayor can find Limavady on a map of Northern Ireland which is located in the United Kingdom.
“The mayor talks of equality and respect. If this was the case, could he and his party not respect the unionist tradition?
“Surely Sinn Fein, a party which preaches equality for all and respect, should practice what they preach.”
Flags have been a constant source of conflict in Limavady. A unionist angry at the election of convicted IRA bomber Sean McGlinchey as mayor brought a Union flag into the council chamber in protest. Another Sinn Fein mayor, the youngest in the borough’s history, was elected this year. Cathal McLaughlin has now become embroiled in another row over flags — this time over the amount on display.