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Police wash hands of responsibility for Ormeau flags

By Joanne Fleming

Published 02/07/2015

Flags flying on the Ormeau Road
Flags flying on the Ormeau Road

Residents along a stretch of Belfast's Ormeau Road - where police have been accused of a policy U-turn over flag-flying - have expressed mixed feelings over the erection of around 50 unionist flags.

The flags are being flown along the Upper Ormeau Road, where last year a similar incident in the run-up to the Twelfth was treated as a breach of the peace.

But this year, police are insisting it is not their job to take down flags.

It is thought the flags, flying from just past the Ormeau Bridge on lampposts up to Ballynafeigh in what is a mixed area, were erected on Monday evening.

They are mostly Union and Ulster flags, but there were a clutch of foreign flags too at Ballynafeigh Orange Hall, with countries such as Australia, the US and Holland represented. Some nationalists have reacted angrily to the flags' erection and SDLP MLA for South Belfast Claire Hanna has confirmed her party is to meet the PSNI on the issue.

All was peaceful on the Ormeau Road yesterday, as the area's booming cafe culture saw many gathered at outdoor tables in the heat. While most were undisturbed by the new flags, some made it clear they were unhappy - but said they were too afraid to speak out.

Long-term resident Harry Moore (73) said he expected the Ormeau Road to remain "peaceful enough" despite the addition of the flags,

"It doesn't bother me," he said. "They have been doing it for years. There is not too much trouble on this part of the road. I have never had any bother."

Clinton Kamara (21) has been living in the Ormeau Road area for most of his life. He laughed when asked if he had concerns about the flags.

"I hadn't even noticed," he said. "Everyone is nice and friendly around here. Although I'm from Sierra Leone I say I am from Belfast. I'm used to these sorts of things now."

Yasmin Angus (23) said of the flags: "It doesn't really bother me. Community support was not really an issue with flags where I'm from in Bangor originally, and I'm not really expecting any trouble here."

One woman who objected to the flags and asked not to be named said: "I just don't see why they have to be here, it's quite a mixed area.

"I'm from the Annadale area where they have been erecting 40ft flag poles. I have friends in the Catholic community and would be embarrassed for them to visit me. There are no guidelines for flags, no leadership.

"There is a UVF memorial near my house. I was not asked about that but I don't have anyone I can voice concerns to. I can understand how a community here could feel threatened."

One long-standing business owner said people objecting to the flags may find it hard to come forward but felt more there were greater issues of concern.

"Look at what has been happening in Tunisia," he said

Ms Hanna called for an updated flags protocol from the Assembly.

"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," she said.

"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."

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