Belfast Telegraph

Flag row fears as unionists and republicans clash over Armed Forces

By Victoria O'Hara

A fresh row is threatening to erupt at Belfast City Council over flying the Armed Forces Day flag over the City Hall.

Republican and unionist benches are today expected to be split over a request by the Ministry of Defence to mark Armed Forces Day on June 29.

In a letter to the council the MOD had asked if the annual event — a day to celebrate and honour the Armed Forces community — could be marked by flying the flag for six days.

The MOD Chief of the Defence Staff said it recognised flying the flag in Northern Ireland presents “more difficulty” than in other parts of the UK.

But it suggested a number of other ways that support for the Armed Forces could be shown —including flying the flag.

Sinn Fein, however, intend to vote against the proposals describing the flag as a “divisive symbol”.

Council minutes also show there has “not been a consensus” on the matter between political parties.

The issue had been discussed at the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee but was deferred to the full council meeting due to be held tonight.

Last year the council voted to have the flag fly for six days after

it was supported by Alliance, DUP and Ulster Unionist councillors.

In previous years, however, Belfast City Council has flown the flag for one day only.

The current options set to be considered are to fly the flag from June 24 to 29, limit the period it flies or refuse the request.

A DUP source said a split between nationalist, republican and unionist benches over the issue was “expected” but unionists were hopeful support would be given to the request.

“The Armed Forces flag has never had a row on the same scale as the national flag,” the source said. “We have been trying to manage the situation and we are hopeful that we will actually come out with the result we desire and that is the full six days.

“We are expecting people to state their objections.”

Sinn Fein’s Jim McVeigh, however, said they will be voting against the flag flying at all.

“The fact of the matter is while we recognise that many people in the city have a great deal of respect for the British Army and the role here the fact of the matter is there is many people, most of the people we represent, would view their role as having been entirely malign,” he said.

“So, we are opposed to the British military flag flying over the City Hall for those reasons, that it is divisive and not something that we should be doing.”

Factfile

Other flags flown on specific days on Belfast City Hall:

  •  Cross of St Patrick, March 17.
  •  European Union Flag, Europe Day on May 9.
  •  Red Ensign flown on National Merchant Navy Day on September 3.

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