Video: Unionists anger as Union flag cut down at town roundabout
The removal of a controversial flagpole and Union flag in Magherafelt has been branded an outrageous attempt to dilute British culture and unionist heritage.
Loyalists from a group calling itself British Truth Forum erected the flag on a roundabout in the town in the early hours of Wednesday. Less than 24 hours later, a video emerged on social media showing council-employed contractors using an angle grinder to dismantle the structure.
Its removal sparked anger among unionist politicians.
TUV mid-Ulster Assembly candidate Hannah Loughrin said the decision to take the flag down "speaks volumes about how the council views its minority community" and claimed the actions caused "huge offence".
"The council might try to dress this up in the language of equality, but in reality this is indicative of a council determined to deny any space to the expression of Unionist heritage or culture," she added.
The dispute began 18 months ago after the majority nationalist council voted to remove the flagpole, which was erected by the Orange Order on a roundabout in the Diamond area almost 65 years ago.
The council plans to install a new cross-community £46,000 artwork on the site as part of a public realm scheme.
William Lennox, a spokesman for the loyalist forum, admitted he and a group of other men - including members of the Orange Order - were responsible for erecting the pole.
He told the Belfast Telegraph the group was pursuing legal action against the council and the PSNI.
"We have sought legal advice and want the council and the police to be charged with criminal damage and theft," he said.
"We weren't told that it was going to be removed. We know who owns that land and it will come out in court. There was a lot of motivation and different reasons as to why we wanted to put the flag back up. We'll be holding a Press conference in a few days about this."
A spokesperson for the Magherafelt district of the Orange Order denied any direct involvement.
"The district was neither responsible for, nor sanctioned, this occurrence," they said.
"Equally, the district did not support, or give permission, for the Union flag to be removed in the first place."
DUP councillor Paul McLean said the removal of the flag and was proof that the council was "dancing to a Sinn Fein agenda". He added: "It beggars belief that the council were able to mobilise contractors and then go through the rigorous motions involved in such a process, and then within just a few hours it was done and dusted.
"Sinn Fein have proved that all their talk of equality, diversity and shared spaces is just meaningless, flowery language because actions speak louder than words and the actions of Sinn Fein contradict their words."
Ulster Unionist Assembly candidate for mid-Ulster Sandra Overend said the incident had left her "outraged".
"There was no need for this situation to arise in the first place," she added.
"People are angry and the whole situation has been badly handled. This has caused a lot of hurt in the unionist community."
However, Magherafelt resident Sheena Lupari claimed that people in the area "didn't care" about the issue.
"No one really wants to know about it - there are only a few people in the town who want to keep it up for historic reasons," she explained.
PSNI Superintendent Mike Baird said police had identified a number of males involved in erecting the flagpole.
He added they were working to establish if any criminal offence had been committed or any regulation breached.