Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

SDLP calls for flags commission

Ulster Volunteer Force flags in east Belfast

A Parades Commission-style body should be set up to regulate the display of flags, the SDLP has said.

A code of conduct covering people organising or taking part in the public display of flags, murals or emblems should be applied in contentious scenarios where local community agreement is impossible, party leader Alasdair McDonnell added.

Police have responded to criticism over the erection of scores of flags in east Belfast last weekend by insisting that only political agreement can secure a long-term resolution to such issues.

Dr McDonnell said: "The commission would have powers to issue a determination in respect of the removal of displays and to impose sanctions on persons organising or erecting displays."

He suggested the commission's guidelines should allow it to consider public disorder or damage to property which might result from a display, any disruption to the life of the community, any impact on relationships within the community and any failure of a person to comply with its code of conduct.

"We see no reason why a regulatory framework should not be put in place," the South Belfast MP added.

"This would threaten no-one and provide those communities who are flagged without their consent with a proper mechanism through which to secure the removal or at very least better management of flags erected on public property."

Police have faced questions on why groups of men, some allegedly masked, were able to direct traffic last weekend while they used a cherry picker to put up Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) flags along the route of a scheduled parade next weekend in the area.

Organisers insisted the flags related to the original UVF, established in 1913 in the middle of the Home Rule crisis, and were nothing to do with the paramilitary organisation that adopted its name in the 1960s. Next Saturday's parade will commemorate the centenary of the resistance force's establishment.

Many members of the original UVF went on to fight in the British Army in the First World War as part of the 36th Ulster Division.

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