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Let's stop illegal flags on streets

By Steven Agnew

The recent outcry over the temporary flying of the Irish tricolour on Parliament Buildings in Stormont is in marked contrast to the lack of attention given to the illegal flying of paramilitary flags in communities across Northern Ireland.

It is remarkable the energy, determination and speed with which unionist politicians came out to condemn the flying of the Irish flag, demanding inquiries and investigations.

I fully accept that it should not have happened.

There needs to be an investigation into how it happened, given how potentially damaging this was to community relations.

And yet I compare the determination, united effort and public statements on this one event with the relative silence from the same politicians around the flying of paramilitary flags, which are often put up without community consent.

There are complex reasons for flying a flag.

For some, displays of flags are a symptom of underlying insecurities, fears and anxieties of ordinary people.

For others, they are evidence of the ongoing control exercised by paramilitary gangs.

The continuing failure of any statutory bodies to intervene for fear of provoking more violence only increases the disillusionment of many within our community.

Non-action and lack of a clear protocol on flag-flying is viewed by many as indicating that, 17 years after the Belfast Agreement, threats of violence still pay dividends and the rule of law can be broken with impunity.

Indeed, the real danger here is that what gets rewarded gets repeated and so begins a cycle, or pattern, of perceived "normal" and "entitled" behaviour by a minority with no consultation with the wider community.

The Green Party is working with community groups to address their concerns where the problem of paramilitary flags has arisen.

I look forward to seeing those politicians making statements and comments about the recent Stormont flag issue, working with the same determination, energy and purpose on resolving the illegal flying of flags in our communities.

  • Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

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