Belfast Telegraph

Friday 24 October 2014

Row erupts over flying of flag at empty Strabane courthouse

Union flag demonstrations have been held since early December
Union flag demonstrations have been held since early December

Another Union flag row has erupted, this time in Strabane, Co Tyrone, as councillors clashed over the flying of the flag at the town’s courthouse.

The row was sparked by the flag being flown at the empty building for the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday on Monday.

Sinn Fein councillor Karina Carlin said it was a waste of money to bring staff from Omagh to erect a flag at Strabane courthouse when it isn't in use on 13 of the 15 Stormont-designated flag-flying days as defined in the Flags (Northern Ireland) Order 2000.

Belfast City Hall flies the flag on 18 designated days as defined by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in Westminster.

Services have been reduced at Strabane Court and it is now only opened once a week for family law cases.

It was shut on Monday which was the birthday of the ill Duke and one of the designated days.

However, because no staff were at the Strabane building, security staff from Omagh raised and lowered the flag — a move which Cllr Carlin described as divisive.

She said: “This is a relic from the past. The flying of the Union flag at the courthouse was something that occurred in the past and to my knowledge it hasn't been done in a long number of years.

“Other solicitors I have spoken to can't recall the flag being flown in Strabane, but it was erected last Monday and was highly visible to local people passing the courthouse.

“The courthouse wasn't even being used. There was no-one there, so I am asking why was this done? It only created division and dissatisfaction and of course it was a waste of money.”

Fellow councillor in Strabane, the UUP's Derek Hussey, said the flying of the flag was in line with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, something which Cllr Carlin's party had signed up to.

He said: “It is quite obvious that Sinn Fein does not want to see the Union flag being flown anywhere, but Northern Ireland is still part of the UK. The flying of the flag on designated days is within the Belfast Agreement which Sinn Fein are totally au fait with and the flag being flown at Strabane courthouse last Monday was as per policy.

“I find it incredulous that Cllr Carlin would complain about the flag being flown at a Crown building which the courthouse still is, even if the circumstances are that it is not in full-time use nor is there staff there full-time.”

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