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Belfast City Council in court bid to make department tear down flags



Special meeting: Ciaran Beattie

Special meeting: Ciaran Beattie

Special meeting: Ciaran Beattie

Belfast City Council has voted to take legal action against the Department for Infrastructure to force it to remove flags and banners from public property such as lampposts.

Yesterday's special council meeting was called by Sinn Fein councillor Ciaran Beattie in response to a number of paramilitary flags and 'Soldier F' banners across Belfast.

Soldier F faces prosecution for murder and attempted murder on Bloody Sunday. Flags in support of the former paratrooper have been erected throughout Northern Ireland by loyalists.

Although his proposal only referred to paramilitary flags and banners supporting British soldiers, Mr Beattie said that all flags and banners that cause hurt or division should be challenged.

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He said those "paramilitary flags and banners supporting British regiments are being used to divide, offend and cause hurt to victims".

He told councillors they had to face up to their responsibilities, saying there were businesses being fined over illegal advertisements, but no action being taken on "divisive flags or banners".

"Anyone who sets out to put a flag or banner on a lamppost designed to cause hurt to our citizens or hurt to families and victims must be challenged, and we can't shy away from that.

"We can no longer say it is not our responsibility.

"It is our responsibility to protect citizens.

"We as a council will no longer stand for bigots, for those that set out to divide the city, for those that promote hate.

"We as a council should stand together. We shall do our best to make our city a good city, a city for all, an inclusive city."

The Sinn Fein motion called on the council to take legal action against the DfI, enforcing it to remove all paramilitary flags and banners, unless DfI gives permission "with protocols that protect citizens".

During the meeting those opposed said the motion itself was "divisive".

The DUP, pointing towards the naming of a play park in Newry after an IRA man and how Sinn Fein "eulogise" paramilitaries killed during the Troubles, said the motion was an irony.

DUP councillor George Dorrian said that while he would prefer Ulster banners and the Union flag only to be flown, the erection of flags and banners was a tradition.

He said there had been progress in areas in bringing about protocols on how flags and emblems are treated and much hard work had had gone in to easing tensions.

"This sweeping action to remove all flags and emblems is not practical or helpful," he said.

"This instead will aggravate tensions while some are spending time on the ground working to improve community relations. That is where time should be spent."

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said those looking to erect flags should consult with communities, saying it was more about "demarcating territory than celebrating culture".

He said flying flags in shared spaced for three months of the year was "retrograde and wrong".

A People Before Profit amendment to the motion to specify that the motion was targeting Parachute Regiment and Soldier F banners was defeated.

Mr Beattie explained there could be no specified banner as all needed to have planning permission. He said it was the case that no flag or banner had ever received planning permission.

Alliance and the SDLP also lost bids to have the motion amended.

SDLP councillor Seamas de Faoite said people were "sick and tired" of the flags debate every summer and it was time to address the matter.

The UUP's Jim Rodgers said he was disappointed the special meeting was called on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

"We need to start wising up and start building this city," he said.

"There is so much to be done. Time would be better spent building friendships and relationships, and that's what I want us to do."

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