Racists fly Ku Klux Klan flag in east Belfast
Naomi Long MP says flag added "sinister edge" to recent race attacks in the area
A Ku Klux Klan flag was erected in east Belfast this week, where a spate of racist attacks have taken place.
The blue 'New Order Knights' flag was pictured flying from a lamppost off Island Street in Ballymacarrett on Tuesday morning, displaying the words "Ku Klux Klan"- an emblem which clearly denotes racism and white supremacy.
It has since been taken down.
East Belfast Alliance MP Naomi Long hit out at those behind it, saying it added an "even more sinister edge" to recent race-related incidents.
Mrs Long said she had received a number of complaints from constituents regarding the flags, which she passed to the PSNI for action.
“Yet again we see those who wish to bully anyone different from them use flags and emblems to assert dominance and control over a community. To do so at all is to be condemned but to put up these flags in broad daylight shows just how brazen the culprits are," she said.
“To use flags hailing a hate group such as the KKK is sickening and lends a further menacing element to recent events."
Last year 982 racist incidents were reported to the PSNI – an average of up to three every day.
That marks a big rise on the year before – there were 750 reports about racist incidents in 2012-13.
Police have said the loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) has been orchestrating racist attacks in south and east Belfast.
But only 12 people have been successfully convicted for the 14,000 hate crimes reported in Northern Ireland in the last five years.
Three homes were attacked in the Roslyn Street area of east Belfast.
Graffiti saying 'locals only' and 'get out' was scrawled on walls of the properties.
A 28-year-old Polish woman who lives in one of the homes, said she and her nine-year-old child were considering leaving the area because of the incident.
And on April 30 a Romanian man had faeces thrown at him as he cycled along the Newtownards Road.
Naomi Long said: "It is essential that every right-thinking person unites against those who engage in racist, bigoted or otherwise intolerant behaviour and does so with consistency.
“It is also critical that the all-party talks this week stop ducking the issue of the use and abuse of flags and emblems for the purposes of intimidation, and face up to dealing substantively with this challenge to a shared future and to the rule of law.”
DUP councillor Gavin Robinson slammed those behind the flag as displaying "intolerance and provocative aggression".
"It is a huge level of pathetic stupidity, especially on a week when many in the unionist and loyalist community came together to devise a strategy to combat racism."
Mr Robinson said he had raised the issue with the Chief Superintendent this morning.
"Whatever the intentions are of displaying this flag, it is in no way representative of the strength of opinion in east Belfast which believes these attacks are wrong."
East Belfast MLA Robin Newton said the flag was "disgusting" and "has no place" as part of the annual Twelfth of July celebrations.
"It does not represent the people of East Belfast, of loyalists, and particularly of all those people who today, remember the sacrifice of those men who laid down their lives at the Battle of the Somme.
"It is vital that those thugs who have engaged in racist attacks, and who want to send out such a threatening and aggressive message to people from an ethnic minority background are identified and face the full weight of the law."
The PSNI said it would not be taking the flag down and that it would instead adopt "a multi-agency approach" - but it has since been removed.
When asked if a crime had been committed or not, a police spokesman said he could not comment.
“No single body or agency has the answer to all of the issues surrounding the flying or the removal of flags in Northern Ireland," he 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.
"Until the Joint Protocol in Relation to the Display of Flags in Public Areas is updated, the Police Service of Northern Ireland 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."