Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

DUP wrong to attack Lo's flag plea

Yet again an event which should be the jewel in our tourism crown this year is bedevilled by negative politics and vitriolic street level abuse. The Giro d'Italia cycle race is one of the great sporting events in Europe and it is a huge coup to bring a leg of it to Northern Ireland. It should bring in thousands of tourists and cycling fans who love the colour, the excitement and the sheer novelty of the event.

But instead of unbridled celebration at the biggest sporting event ever to be staged here, there is nothing but discord. Alliance MLA Anna Lo made the entirely sensible suggestion that territorial flags, sectarian murals and election posters should be removed from the route of the race. There is nothing patriotic about flying tattered flags from lampposts or painting pictures of hooded gunmen on gable walls and certainly those images would do nothing to enhance the reputation of Northern Ireland to the millions watching the event on television around Europe.

For this is not just about a sporting event. It is an opportunity to sell Northern Ireland positively to a captive audience, just as the G8 conference was a huge plus point for the province. Remember the routes around Enniskillen were cleaned-up for the arrival of world leaders. But Ms Lo received a barrage of abuse for her suggestion, some of it racial.

Perhaps that is to be expected from the trolls who regularly vent their spleen online.

But for senior members of the DUP to also attack her suggestion sets entirely the wrong tone. The Alliance MLA's suggestion was to call for a common sense approach. She wasn't advocating some sort of security sweep to remove treasured symbols.

The DUP's intervention now makes it seem like a trial of strength. Instead, politicians on all sides should be encouraging their communities to clean up their own streets, take pride in the appearance of where they live and promote a positive image of Northern Ireland.

Is that really too much to ask when the benefits are so apparent?

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