Belfast Telegraph

'Tensions flare' as DUP and Sinn Fein clash in over flag-flying in Derry

By Donna Deeney

A row between Sinn Fein and the DUP has erupted in Londonderry after loyalists erected flags at gateways into the city.

DUP MLA Gary Middleton accused republican councillors of trying to raise tensions and create problems where none exist.

He said he feared this may lead to trouble between the two communities during the Apprentice Boys celebration in August.

However, Sinn Fein councillor Christopher Jackson said flying flags on the city's arterial routes was sending out a negative image to tourists.

Mr Middleton said: "As a party we have been reluctant to say anything publicly before now, but the way Sinn Fein has been trying to heighten tensions has left us with no choice.

"We have been out on the ground talking to people in mainly nationalist areas, such as the Triangle in the Waterside.

"The only issues we came out with were everyday constituency issues and nothing around sectarian issues.

"Our concern is that we have the Twelfth of July parade now and in a few weeks' time it will the August 12 parade.

"Unfortunately, over the past couple of weeks there has been a real heightening of tensions around flags.

"Sinn Fein were not complaining when they had Caw roundabout plastered with election posters. While I am not one for marking out territory, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to heighten tensions where there were no problems in the past.

"There are flags, but there is a protocol around those flags which means they will come down again in August, and that will be the same within the Waterside.

"Rather than antagonising the young people, which can have a detrimental effect that could see them go and put up more flags and create a situation where we are more divided, respect should be shown."

Mr Middleton said failure to do this could result in a setback to the peaceful parading Derry has become renowned for. He added: "We have shown in the past that this is a city where cultures from all backgrounds can co-exist and celebrate diversity, which is what we want to encourage.

"Every time the Twelfth of July and August 12 come up there are issues raised to grab the headlines that can have a detrimental effect. We have seen it in the past and things have gotten out of control.

"We should all be working towards reducing tensions and allowing the celebration of all cultures.

"Rather than trying to grab a headline, the situation would be easier resolved by talking to those in the community."

Mr Jackson said contrary to heightening tensions, Sinn Fein was "doing the exact opposite and asking for common sense to prevail".

"I'm not quite sure whose door in the Triangle Gary Middleton was knocking on, but they don't belong to the people who are coming to us every day, fearful that we are going to have a repeat of last year," he said.

"There are two issues here concerning the flags - the image sent out to tourists using the Caw roundabout and other arterial routes into the city, and the flags erected around the Triangle in the run-up to the August 12 parade.

"The DUP have ignored the flags at the Caw roundabout and denied there is a problem.

"While they may not agree, it does send out a negative image to tourists coming into the city."

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