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Illegal loyalist flags in Belfast must be taken down, SDLP man demands

By Deborah McAleese

Published 13/06/2016

Frustrating issue: Donal Lyons
Frustrating issue: Donal Lyons

Police in Belfast have come under pressure to remove loyalist paramilitary flags erected on lamp posts across the city at the weekend.

UDA flags have appeared in residential neighbourhoods close to the exclusive Upper Malone area in the south of the city.

Their arrival comes just a few weeks after leading loyalists unveiled plans to do away with illegal displays.

Members of the Loyalist Communities Council announced a new 'protocol' last month, including a three-month limit on the flying of flags and a new flag to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

However, on Friday around 15 flags of the South Belfast UDA were erected across the Taughmonagh and Benmore areas.

SDLP councillor Donal Lyons demanded they be removed. "I have a certain degree of sympathy with the police when they say that the flying of flags from lamp posts in general is an issue needing political and legal clarity, and I hope that the long overdue Flags Commission will bring much needed progress to this frustrating issue," he said.

"However, there should be no confusion over the legality of flying the flag of a proscribed terrorist organisation. There can be no justification for this in any circumstance," Mr Lyons added. "Any notion that the PSNI should be expected to enter into negotiations with members of terrorist groups on issues such as these undermines the basis of a just society. It only serves to legitimise these illegal criminal gangs."

The south Belfast councillor warned people cannot have confidence that their complaints about a paramilitary group will be taken seriously "when they see these intimidatory displays going completely unchallenged".

"What justification can there be for taking a soft, incentive-based approach to hoping that they merely go away?" he demanded.

In recent weeks, UDA flags have also appeared across the lower Shankill area of west Belfast, and UFF flags were erected in Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey.

Earlier this month an independent panel proposed a number of strategies to help disband paramilitary groups.

The report suggested a new decommissioning scheme to deal with fresh requests from paramilitary groups wanting to put their arms beyond use.

It also proposed the creation of a unit to specialise in paramilitaries and communities in transition, and to allow the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal "unduly lenient" terrorism sentences.

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