Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

UDA flag row making waves in Helen’s Bay

Helen's Bay is well-known for its picturesque scenery
Helen's Bay is well-known for its picturesque scenery

The affluent village of Helen’s Bay on the north Down coast is a world away from the Kilcooley council estate in Bangor which is bedecked with loyalists flags.

In the snug square of the seaside hamlet, the only items hanging on telegraph poles are pretty floral baskets — and that is how local residents wish it to stay.

But ahead of the Twelfth, a loyalist group has threatened to put up more flags in prosperous areas of the borough. It was a threat they carried through two years ago in Helen’s Bay much to the horror of the majority of residents.

North Down borough’s mayor, James McKerrow lives in the square and said he would not be surprised if loyalist flags were erected again.

“People in Helen’s Bay didn’t like the flags being put up the last time,” he said.

“It’s a mixed population. What concerns me is these flags are going up in areas that wouldn’t normally have flags, without any consultation with the people.”

Mr McKerrow, who is a retired engineer at Harland & Wolff and Shorts, said he was abroad on holiday when the flags last went up in 2009.

“I never found out who took the flags down but each time they went up they were removed,” he said.

“I heard that men came in balaclavas and put flags up in Bangor recently.

“If they feel they have a right to put them up then it is difficult to understand why they need to wear balaclavas.”

His views were echoed by local residents going about their business in the square yesterday. “I have lived here 16 years and when the flags went up people hated it,” said a mother-of-one.

“Some men just came one night and put them up along Bridge Road.

“People complained to police and they were then taken down.

“At first they were Union jacks but after they were removed the men came back and replaced them with UDA paramilitary flags.”

The woman, who didn’t wish to be named, said people would be very uncomfortable if flags went up again.

“This is a quiet area, people don’t want any trouble,” she said. “I think flags are put up just to annoy locals.”

A retired man going to the local chemist to collect some prescriptions described flag-flying as “intimidation”.

“They do it to annoy us,” he said. “These people come into the area and want to throw their weight about. People are too afraid to take them down.”

Another resident said she was glad there are no flags in the area this year and hoped it stays that way.

“I don’t like them at all — I think it is like chest-beating,” she said.

One political commentator described the flags as “a symptom of disaffected loyalists communities”.

“There is high unemployment in loyalist areas and they feel shut out of the political process,” he said.

“Putting loyalist flags up in a wealthy, influential area is one way of gaining attention and reasserting loyalist identity.”

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