Erecting flags in mixed areas to be treated as crime
The PSNI will now treat the erection of loyalist flags in a mixed area of south Belfast as a breach of the peace.
Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey said officers who watched flags being put up in the Ballynafeigh area of the Ormeau Road “brought themselves into disrepute”.
The police said subsequent inquiries showed tensions were “particularly heightened” by the number of flags being put up.
A PSNI spokesman said: “As a result, police have directed that any future erection of flags on this part of the Ormeau Road will be treated as a breach of the peace.
“Community representatives have been spoken to and advised of this.”
However, the police said the removal of flags was not their responsibility and that they will only act in “extreme circumstances”, for example where life is at risk. Alliance MLA Anna Lo has welcomed the commitment by the PSNI to take a new approach to the flying of flags in the area.
She said: “I am deeply concerned by the proliferation of flags in the area and do not wish to see them used as a means of intimidation and to mark out territory.
“This action will send out a strong message to those who wish to use flags to intimidate people in the local community.”
Dozens of flags were put up on lampposts last month during the election campaign.
The area used to have a Protestant majority but the recent census showed demographics have changed with almost 57% of people living there now Catholic, while just 27% are Protestant.
South Belfast Assembly Member Mr Maskey said: “People who put those flags up in some cases had a lot of drink taken.”
He added: “So residents were abused and police officers, for the most part, really did nothing and I don't think that's good enough, and I've raised that with them and, as I've said, I think we've come to a better understanding with them, which we will test in due course.”
The police were also criticised by Alliance's Duncan Morrow, a former head of the Community Relations Council.
DUP councillor Christopher Stalford said police had better things to do with their time than deal with flags.
“I believe that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has better things to be doing with its time than sending officers shimmying up lampposts to remove flags,” he said.