Police accused of U-turn over unionist flags on Belfast's Ormeau Road
Police are being accused of a U-turn over the flying of unionist flags in a mixed area of south Belfast - after last year treating a similar incident as a breach of the peace.
The Union and Northern Ireland flag are believed to have been erected along a stretch of the Upper Ormeau Road on Monday evening.
Last year the flying of the flags in the Ballynafeigh area of the Ormeau Road was treated by police as an arrestable offence.
A police spokeswoman confirmed at the time that "any future erection of flags on this part of the Ormeau Road will be treated as a breach of the peace".
But they insisted at the time it was not the job of the PSNI to take flags down.
Yesterday nationalists reacted angrily after the flags appeared two weeks ahead of the annual Twelfth of July loyalist celebrations.
South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna said business owners and residents had been left feeling frustrated and called for leadership from political leaders.
Ms Hanna said: "It is extremely frustrating for residents and business owners to see flags appear each year in shared neighbourhoods like Ormeau. I accept that flags are an important part of identity for some people and respect their right to fly a legal flag outside their home. They have no right, however, to fly flags in this way on public furniture, especially in harmonious, well integrated areas like this. It is at best insensitive territory marking and interpreted by many as coat trailing and intimidation.
“We need a consistent approach to this issue, and ultimately we need political leadership and an updated Flags Protocol from the NI Executive, as well as a coherent strategy on tackling sectarianism. The police have previously said that the erection of flags in this area will be treated as a breach of the peace. Today they said that was a time specific directive and now we must start anew.
“We cannot constantly start anew. We must find lasting solutions because what we have now is unacceptable. The SDLP will be asking the police what action they intend to take on flags, but pressure must also be put on the Stormont Executive to show some real leadership in tackling division and sectarianism - we can't just police our way out of political failure.”
In response Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw said it was not the responsibility of the PSNI to remove flags except in certain circumstances.
He said: "We received a number of reports in relation to flags being erected in the Ormeau Road Area on evening of Monday 29 June .
“The removal of flags is not the responsibility of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and police will only act to remove flags where there are substantial risks to public safety.
"Until the 'Joint Protocol in Relation to the Display of Flags in Public Areas' is updated, the PSNI will continue to work with communities and respond to any issue where there is a concern for public safety or where it is believed a criminal offence has occurred.
"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.”