Belfast Telegraph

Park protest over UVF terror flags in mixed areas

By Suzanne Breen

Around 250 people last night attended a protest in south Belfast against the flying of paramilitary and unionist flags in the area.

The rally heard that people wanted change and that many were living in fear after loyalists erected flags in the religiously mixed Ormeau and Ravenhill Roads.

There was criticism of newly elected local DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly for not responding in a "helpful" way to the situation and not reflecting all her constituents' views.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna, Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir and Green MLA Clare Bailey attended the protest.

However, no politicians were allowed to address the event, as the organiser said it wasn't a "political rally".

Among the crowd was Dr Raied Al-Wazzan of the Belfast Islamic Centre.

Earlier this week UVF flags were erected in a shared housing development in Global Crescent and Cantrell Close off the Ravenhill Road.

Ms Little Pengelly claimed that the majority of people she had spoken to locally didn't want to make "a fuss" over the flags.

Loyalists also erected flags along the Ormeau Road where residents have previously said they aren't wanted.

Addressing the crowd, local resident Dominica McGowan said that almost 2,000 people had signed a petition demanding that the flags be taken down.

Ms McGowan - a former director of the Nexus Institute, which counsels victims of sexual abuse - said that the rally reflected the strong feeling in the local community.

She said that people who felt intimidated, whose children lived in fear, were finally stepping forward to make their voices heard.

"This is a start, a beginning," Ms McGowan said.

"This is not a political rally, rather it is an organic response to frustration, fear and lack of action.

"No one was doing anything of substance.

"Many of us perceived the hoisting of UVF flags as the final straw.

"Our MP did not respond in a way many of us thought helpful - in fact, quite the contrary."

Ms McGowan told the Belfast Telegraph that the rally was just the start of residents campaigning on the flags issue.

"We may set up a committee, we haven't worked it all out yet, but tonight is only the beginning. People can still retain the right to hang flags from their homes, but they certainly shouldn't be on lampposts in a mixed and shared area." Ms McGowan said that when she had asked loyalists erecting the flags why they were doing so, they had filmed her, her car and its registration number.

Ms Hanna said there was "deep frustration" over flags in south Belfast and the rally had "sent out a serious message in a non-confrontational way".

Ms Bailey said: "It's time to stop putting up flags without permission or consultation on the Ormeau and Ravenhill Roads, which are among the most diverse communities in Northern Ireland." Sinn Fein councillor Geraldine McAteer said: "This is a very positive, respectful gathering of people saying that the flags going up in this shared environment make them feel intimidated and afraid."

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