Communities in fear as UVF 'invites' Catholics and ethnic minorities to fly its flag
The UVF has been accused of intimidation after it visited the homes of Catholics and ethnic minorities in east Belfast before loyalist flags were erected outside houses.
Residents in the My Ladys Road area have said that loyalists called to their doors “inviting” them to display an emblem outside their house.
Residents said they were told that the flags would be the new Somme flag created by the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC).
The LCC created the banner to commemorate the centenary of the World War One battle.
Its launch last month was supported by the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando.
But in the end, the flags put up along the street alternated between Union flags and others bearing a UVF logo.
It has the UVF motto “For God and Ulster” and has the words “East Belfast Regiment” printed on a crest with the date 1914.
The Somme was not until two years later, and the date appears to commemorate the Larne gun-running — the historic gun smuggling operation by the UVF to oppose Home Rule.
While it had been hoped that the new LCC flag would be adopted widely by loyalists, there was dissent from within the ranks when the plan was announced.
Some hardline loyalists said that they would defy their bosses by flying paramilitary flags from lamp posts during the summer instead.
Sources in the east Belfast UVF were reported as saying it would be “business as usual”. One said in May: “We are not paying a blind bit of attention to the LCC. UVF flags will be going up for the Twelfth as normal.”
A source told the Belfast Telegraph last night: “On Monday night, the UVF knocked doors in the area and invited people to have the flag erected outside their homes.
“It was put as a request — but one that wasn’t to be refused. People didn’t feel that there was anything voluntary about what was being asked.
“They were told that there would be no charge for the flag and, if they didn’t have flag-poles, brackets could be put up for them.”
The source said that loyalists also called at the homes of Catholics and ethnic minorities who did not want the flag to be displayed.
The area was once solidly unionist but demographic changes in recent years mean that there are now ethnic minorities — mainly eastern Europeans — living in rented accommodation.
An increasing number of Catholic first-time buyers have also purchased properties in the lower Ravenhill Road area because they are relatively cheap and the location is so convenient to the city centre.
The source said: “These people don’t want loyalist flags outside their homes, but they have basically been left with no choice.
“Some residents have no problem with the flag, but those who do now feel very uncomfortable. The UVF seems to have ordered thousands of these flags and is determined to put them up.
“It wants roads in the Ravenhill area lined with the flag for the parade to mark the Somme’s 100th anniversary on July 1.”
Local Ulster Unionist councillor Graham Craig said: “Were I a Catholic or member of an ethnic minority community, I would be very frightened if the UVF came to the door and asked if I wanted a flag displayed that is so closely associated with paramilitaries.
“This is people’s private property and that must be respected.”