Union flag storm halts Limavady meeting
A council at the centre of a bitter sectarian row has been plunged into disarray for the second week in a row.
Proceedings at Limavady Council descended into chaos after a hardline unionist member brought a Union flag into the chamber again, sparking nationalist anger.
A defiant Boyd Douglas told his fellow councillors: "I reserve the right to fly the flag if I want to."
The Traditional Unionist Voice representative first displayed his flag last week as the new Sinn Fein mayor of Limavady took the chair for the first time. In the turmoil that followed, the meeting was suspended until last night.
Sinn Fein's Sean McGlinchey has been the target of unionist anger since his election because of his role in an IRA car bombing that killed six people in Coleraine in 1973. Poignantly, the anniversary of the atrocity was on Sunday, June 12.
It comes at a time of increasing concern that the good relations built up in town halls across Northern Ireland over the past few years is coming under strain.
Tensions have also risen in Belfast City Hall, where the new Sinn Fein Lord Mayor has displayed a copy of the 1916 Proclamation and a painting of the 1798 United Irishmen's uprising.
A portrait of the Queen has been moved to a less prominent position, angering unionists.
Last night's meeting in Limavady was again halted as councillors went behind closed doors for more than an hour after Mr Douglas displayed his Union flag.
Even this simple decision over whether to go into committee split the council - unionists wanted the matter dealt with in front of the media, but the majority nationalist bloc voted against this.
When members of the Press were allowed back in, Mr Boyd's flag had been removed. Sinn Fein's Anne Brolly said she wanted a categoric assurance from the TUV man that he would not repeat his action at next month's meeting.
She added: "Fair employment laws may be getting flaunted here because this is a flag-free borough."
Mr Douglas, however, hit back. "We had to go into committee so that the Press could not report the debate - so, so much for democracy."
A proposal from Ms Brolly that no flags or emblems are produced at council meetings was passed.
As tensions threatened to calm down, the DUP's George Robinson put forward a motion to give total support to the police and to the rule of law.
But before it could be put to members, Mr Robinson addressed mayor McGlinchey directly.
"I, on behalf of the DUP council grouping, wish to express the outrage and hurt felt by a large cross-section of the people throughout Limavady and Coleraine Council areas due to your immediate elevation to such a high position as mayor of our beautiful borough of Limavady," he said.
"Considering your violent and murderous past, we contend that this insensitive decision by your party Sinn Fein is a deliberate insult, hugely divisive and damaging to the working relationship in this council."
These comments once again sparked fury from Ms Brolly, but before proceedings spiralled out of control again the council chief executive, Liam Flanigan, intervened to restore calm.
Mr McGlinchey, who had been chairing the meeting, put Mr Robinson's proposal to the members and it was passed unanimously - in a rare sign of unity.
The mayor concluded by saying that while comments had been made about him, "the statement 13 years ago still stands" - a reference to an apology he made for the deaths he caused in Coleraine.
"I am here to do a job but it's clear that there is not a good working relationship in this council and ratepayers are not getting value for money," he added.