Belfast Telegraph

Bessbrook lake tragedy 'highlights the need to resolve flags issue'

By Adrian Rutherford

Political parties have been urged to finally reach a deal over flags following the death of Oswald Bradley.

Community leaders and MLAs said a resolution to the intractable problem was long overdue.

Mr Bradley died on Monday as he swam to an island in Bessbrook pond to remove two Irish tricolours from trees.

The tragedy highlights the continuing deadlock at Stormont as politicians fail to agree on issues of flags, parades and the past.

The latest bid to find consensus ended in disarray when unionists walked out of cross-party talks earlier this month in protest at a decision to restrict a controversial Orange Order parade.

The stalled Stormont talks came six months after discussions chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass and Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan ended without agreement.

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said it was appalling that someone had lost their life over a flag, and said it underlined the urgent need to reach agreement.

"It is a complete tragedy and it does demonstrate the need to find a long-term, settled solution to such a sensitive issue," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I don't think anyone could have ever imagined that the controversy around flags could have led to a tragedy like this."

Mr Lyttle said it must be one of the main issues when the Assembly returns in the autumn.

Peter Osborne, who chairs the Community Relations Council, said agreement on flags was long overdue.

"The fact that this man felt he had to take the actions he did is an indication of something, and clearly the issue needs to be sorted out," he said.

"Regardless of any individual incident, flags are used to mark out territory on lampposts and elsewhere, and that issue needs to be addressed."

Mr Osborne said a protocol on flags being erected on lampposts was agreed seven years ago.

"In terms of the use of flags on streets, lampposts and so on, there is clearly the potential for agreement and political consensus, and it needs to take place in order to provide support to police and other agencies."

Mr Osborne called for an end to flags being used as an issue of contention.

SDLP Assembly Member Dominic Bradley said the drowning emphasised the need for action.

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