Belfast City Council consultation plan on flying of paramilitary flags politically contrived, says DUP
Plans to have a city-wide public consultation on the flying of paramilitary flags and banners in Belfast have been branded as "politically contrived" by the DUP.
Belfast City Council's Strategic Policy and Resources Committee made the decision yesterday at the all-party meeting.
However DUP councillor David Graham branded the decision as "politically contrived" and claimed it would disproportionately impact Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist (PUL) communities.
"No one wants to see flags flying in tatters," he said.
"We opposed this consultation because it has been politically contrived.
"There has been clear legal advice to the council that the PUL community would be unfairly impacted due to the cultural and historical traditions within that community."
The move, which follows months of tensions heightened by the appearance of Soldier F emblems in loyalist areas, was supported by Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party.
Exact details of the planned poll will be discussed at a future committee meeting and will need to be ratified by full council when it meets in October.
Mr Graham said Belfast City Council (BCC) "does not have the legal remit to legislate on flags" in the absence of a functioning Assembly.
"Therefore, regardless of the outcome, BCC will not be able to implement any proposals," he added.
"This is another outworking of a mess created by Sinn Fein.
"They originally started by proposing a motion on banners, with the assistance of Alliance, now it has turned into a public consultation.
"The DUP has been consistently opposed to the flying of any paramilitary flags."
The Balmoral representative was referring to a Sinn Fein motion passed in July which forced the council to take legal action against the Department for Infrastructure.
The move compelled the council to remove paramilitary flags from its property including UVF banners from lamp-posts in the mixed housing development in Cantrell Close.
No action was ultimately taken after the department cited fears over simmering tensions and staff safety.
After seeking legal advice the council backed down and the thorny issue was back on its agenda.
Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown, who proposed the latest motion, said it is not the local authority's role to decide how communities express themselves.
"Flags are often displayed as symbols of marking territory in the community, intimidating residents and visitors, and can even impact businesses' ability to trade," he said.
"However, a shared future does not mean a neutral, nondescript future."
The Botanic representative said legal emblems and flags can be a safe, respectful and legitimate way to express culture which means the public must be consulted.
"It is not good enough for the council to attempt to take action on an ad hoc basis as flags go up," he added.
Another unionist councillor who was at yesterday's meeting accused those who supported the action of engaging in a dangerous game of "chest beating".
"It simply won't work," they said.
"Self regulation is starting to produce results as it has done with bonfires and this decision only serves to undermine that progress.
"It's just another way for the council to wash its hands of the problem.
"No one wants to see paramilitary flags on our streets but this is just going to create more tension."
The consultation is expected to take place in December or January.