Loyalists have thrown down the gauntlet to the PSNI by erecting paramilitary flags outside a Catholic church.
UDA and UVF flags have been put up outside St Nicholas’ Church and primary school in Carrickfergus.
The provocative move, which has angered unionists and nationalists, comes after serious rioting erupted in the Co Antrim town last year when police removed Union and paramilitary flags from outside a Catholic church in nearby Ballyclare.
At that time Carrickfergus bore the brunt of the violence. Six police officers were injured after a hijacked bus was used to ram their vehicle. A number of cars were also hijacked, burnt out and used to attack police lines. The PSNI then issued an apology over the way the issue was handled.
A parishioner from St Nicholas’ who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals, said: “People have been complaining about the number of paramilitary flags.
“I do not know if there is much that can be done about it. People are too scared to take a stand. Some of the parents have even been saying that it’s not good to have paramilitary flags outside the school.
“The Ulster flag and the flag with the Queen went up one day but then the paramilitaries came along and put up the UDA flags another night. It is intimidating.”
Concerns have also been raised about a dramatic increase in the number of flags being flown in Carrickfergus ahead of this year’s Twelfth of July celebrations.
In some places there are three flags attached to each lamp post. The rise has been blamed on simmering tensions between some loyalist factions and the police over the re-opening of an investigation into the murder of businessman Simon Tang (below).
Mr Tang, a 28-year-old father-of-two was beaten and robbed as he left his Chinese takeaway in June 1996.
Two people have appeared in court charged in connection with the killing and a number of others have been charged with perverting the course of justice.
Earlier this month Belfast High Court was told that some of those accused of involvement in the murder were closely associated with the UVF. Since then graffiti has been daubed on walls in the Woodburn and Sunnylands areas of Carrick warning that PSNI officers are targets because of the re-opened inquiry.
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said he was concerned by the increase in paramilitary flags.
“The police carrying out their duty on behalf of the public appears to some to have caused a strain on relations,” he said.
In a statement the PSNI said: “Police are aware of a number of flags having been erected in the Carrickfergus and Ballyclare areas. The issue of flags is a very difficult and emotive one and the police in these areas work with statutory bodies and representatives from political parties to discuss and listen to their views on this issue.”
Sinn Fein’s Mitchell McLaughlin said: “While no one wishes to prevent communities from expressing their culture, it should be done in a sensitive manner and with respect for the wishes of other traditions.”