'No change' to flags policy - PSNI
Police in Northern Ireland have denied they have changed policy on dealing with the erection of flags on lampposts.
Commanders clarified their position in the wake of a heated political debate triggered by a PSNI statement issued yesterday saying that in future erecting flags in a particular area of south Belfast would be treated as a breach of the peace.
Nationalist and republican politicians had welcomed what they perceived as a toughening of the police stance in regard to loyalists who had bedecked the Ballynafeigh area with Union flags, while unionists questioned the police stance, branding it "unworkable".
For years, those putting up flags associated with the unionist or nationalist tradition have largely been allowed to do it unfettered by the police.
While advocates of the tradition claim it is an expression of culture, critics brand the practice an intimidatory means of marking out territory that keeps communities divided.
The flags issue is one of a number of outstanding peace process disputes that politicians have failed to reach agreement on.
The prevalence of Union flags in Ballynafeigh has proved particularly contentious because it is considered a generally 'mixed' area, where residents from both unionist and nationalist traditions live.
The PSNI issued a further statement today in response to what it described as "reports that the policy on the role of police dealing with flags in Northern Ireland has changed".
A police spokeswoman explained that in the absence of a wider agreed framework on flags, the PSNI had to deal with situations depending on different circumstances in different areas.
"No single body or agency has the answer to all of the issues surrounding the flying or the removal of flags in Northern Ireland," she said.
"The experience within policing shows that the approach most likely to provide for public safety and prevention of disorder is based on the principles of engagement between local communities working with agencies including local police and resulting in local decision-making.
"The removal of flags is not the responsibility of the PSNI and police can only act to remove flags where there are substantial risks to public safety. This is entirely in line with existing PSNI policy and practice, and does not represent any change in that policy.
"We accept that this can lead to the perception of differing approaches in different areas, but this is the essence of local community resolutions in the absence of a wider consensus."