Belfast Telegraph

Flag row fears as unionists and republicans clash over Armed Forces

Loyalists take part in a protest in Sandy Row, south Belfast, on Friday evening
Loyalists take part in a protest in Sandy Row, south Belfast, on Friday evening
SUNDAY LIFE NEWS - Flag protest Belfast City Hall. Jamie Bryson speaking. Protesters gather at Belfast City Hall before walking back to the Con Club on the Newtownards Road. A heavy police prescence and involvement from community workers meant there was no trouble at the Short Strand interface as seen on previous weeks. Picture Mark McCormick 19/01/13
Loyalists protesters during a city centre flag protest in Belfast
PACEMAKER BELFAST 13/3/2013 A heavy police presence due to Flag protesters at The new £38 Million Bangor Aurora Aquatic & Leisure Complex visited by Culture minister Carál Ní Chuilín on wednesday during a media preview Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Riot police stand next to a burned out car after Loyalist protesters attacked police lines, in east Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday January 12, 2013. See PA story ULSTER Protests. Photo credit should read: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Union flag protests have been taking place in Northern Ireland
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Loyalist protesters in East Belfast after a flag protest in Belfast City Centre

By Victoria O'Hara

A fresh row is threatening to erupt at Belfast City Council over flying the Armed Forces Day flag over the City Hall.

Republican and unionist benches are today expected to be split over a request by the Ministry of Defence to mark Armed Forces Day on June 29.

In a letter to the council the MOD had asked if the annual event — a day to celebrate and honour the Armed Forces community — could be marked by flying the flag for six days.

The MOD Chief of the Defence Staff said it recognised flying the flag in Northern Ireland presents “more difficulty” than in other parts of the UK.

But it suggested a number of other ways that support for the Armed Forces could be shown —including flying the flag.

Sinn Fein, however, intend to vote against the proposals describing the flag as a “divisive symbol”.

Council minutes also show there has “not been a consensus” on the matter between political parties.

The issue had been discussed at the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee but was deferred to the full council meeting due to be held tonight.

Last year the council voted to have the flag fly for six days after

it was supported by Alliance, DUP and Ulster Unionist councillors.

In previous years, however, Belfast City Council has flown the flag for one day only.

The current options set to be considered are to fly the flag from June 24 to 29, limit the period it flies or refuse the request.

A DUP source said a split between nationalist, republican and unionist benches over the issue was “expected” but unionists were hopeful support would be given to the request.

“The Armed Forces flag has never had a row on the same scale as the national flag,” the source said. “We have been trying to manage the situation and we are hopeful that we will actually come out with the result we desire and that is the full six days.

“We are expecting people to state their objections.”

Sinn Fein’s Jim McVeigh, however, said they will be voting against the flag flying at all.

“The fact of the matter is while we recognise that many people in the city have a great deal of respect for the British Army and the role here the fact of the matter is there is many people, most of the people we represent, would view their role as having been entirely malign,” he said.

“So, we are opposed to the British military flag flying over the City Hall for those reasons, that it is divisive and not something that we should be doing.”

Factfile

Other flags flown on specific days on Belfast City Hall:

  •  Cross of St Patrick, March 17.
  •  European Union Flag, Europe Day on May 9.
  •  Red Ensign flown on National Merchant Navy Day on September 3.

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