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Other provocative moves include boat names, band funds, flags and Union Jack scarf

By Claire O'Boyle

The build-up to the crisis at Stormont seemed to stir an escalation in tit-for-tat sectarian gestures from the DUP and Sinn Fein.

For months the parties have been embroiled in a series of provocative moves, from the renaming of a fisheries vessel and the scrapping of the Irish language Liofa grant, to Arlene Foster's choice of scarf on Monday.

After years of politicians working to convince the people of Northern Ireland to leave sectarian language and attitudes in the past, the old orange versus green divisions reared their heads on the Hill.

Back in September the DUP's Michelle McIlveen used her position as Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to change the name of a boat that patrols the Irish Sea from its original Irish Banrion Uladh to the English translation, Queen of Ulster.

When asked what motivated the move, Ms McIlveen said her predecessor, Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew, had not carried out a consultation before naming the boat in 2010.

The Strangford MLA added changing the name hadn't incurred any cost. However, the department said the change was part of annual scheduled maintenance involving repairs, repainting and anti-fouling that cost almost £7,000.

Last month the row over funding for the Irish language scheme Liofa got heated when it emerged extra funding had been found for loyalist bands.

A scheme for musical instruments - mostly for marching bands - was reinstated by the DUP's Paul Givan in July after being scrapped by Sinn Fein's Caral Ni Chulain in 2015.

The Department for Communities initially allocated £200,000, but in the end it cost £298,000. The additional cost of almost £100,000, in light of the £50,000 cut to Liofa by the same department, provoked fury among nationalists.

And upping the ante this week, Mairtin O Muilleoir and Mrs Foster made their own gestures.

The Finance Minister ordered the removal of the Union flag from his Government offices in east Belfast on Monday.

Clare House is not on a list of specified buildings, but it had been flown regularly by Mr O Muilleoir's predecessors, and on several occasions since the Sinn Fein MLA took office six months ago.

Commentators observed the gesture was likely to be one of his last as Finance Minister, with the Assembly on the brink of collapse.

Meanwhile, less than two miles away at party HQ, DUP leader Mrs Foster raised eyebrows with her choice of neckwear on Monday afternoon.

A Union flag-inspired scarf to set off the prominent crown brooch she regularly wears on her lapel was seen by some as a timely reminder of her loyalty to the UK.

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