Erection of Irish tricolours in Ballymena designed to raise tensions says Jim Allister
TUV leader Jim Allister has said that the erection of Irish tricolour flags in areas of Ballymena is an attempt to raise tensions.
Mr Allister was speaking after the flags were erected in a number of areas on Monday evening, including at a roundabout outside the Ecos Centre.
He described it as a "provocative display" and said that the flags were designed to "claim territory" in the area.
The North Antrim MLA also questioned the timing of the erection of the flags ahead of Ballymena United's Europa League qualifier with Faroe Islands side NSI Runavik on Thursday.
"It will also offend many football supporters, who will be attending Ballymena Showgrounds this Thursday," Mr Allister said.
The TUV leader said the erection of the flags was part of a sustained campaign.
“The concerted effort to increasingly claim the north of Ballymena as republican is designed to make remaining unionists uncomfortable in their own town and must be resisted," Mr Allister said.
"I hear much from Sinn Fein about “equality” and “respect”, but no thought for those deliberately discomforted by this aggression.”
Sinn Fein MLA Phillip McGuigan said that flags should not be used for negative purposes.
"I support efforts to support good relations and I encourage others to do the same. I especially think it is important for those in political leadership to show consistency," the North Antrim MLA said.
"Given the proliferation of flags from a Unionist perspective across the town of Ballymena and the silence of Unionist politicians, such as Jim Allister, on the matter it is clear that flags aren't the issue but rather an expression of Irishness."
Mr Allister is the latest of a number of politicians to raise the issue of the flying of contentious flags in the lead up to the summer months.
At the weekend a flag erected on south Belfast's Lisburn Road in support of 'Soldier F' drew the anger of nationalist and Alliance politicians.
Soldier F faces prosecution for murder and attempted murder on Bloody Sunday.
Flags in support of the former paratrooper have been elected in areas across Northern Ireland since the decision to prosecute was announced in March.
Responding to the recent flag issues PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said that the "flying of any flag or banner should be carried out with the consent of the person or organisation who owns the street furniture or property on which the item is flown or displayed".
"Police will act to support the removal of banners by those who have responsibility for a structure on which the item is displayed but we will only consider removing such items ourselves where there is an imminent and immediate likelihood of a breach of the peace," he said.
"The most effective solution to this issue is community resolution with engagement between local communities working with local agencies and resulting in local decision-making.”
Sinn Fein has been contacted for a response to Mr Allister's comments.
Belfast Telegraph Digital