Loyalist flags taken down at shared housing scheme
A row over the erection of loyalist flags at a shared housing scheme in south Belfast was reignited yesterday morning - but only for a matter of hours before they were removed.
Last October a number of Catholic families moved out of Cantrell Close, off the Ravenhill Road, after UVF flags appeared in the area and sectarian threats were received.
At that stage, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said the UVF were behind the threats. The flags were later removed. But the row flared up again yesterday morning when three UVF flags were erected on nearby Ravenhill Avenue, close to another shared housing scheme, Global Close.
The flags were removed by a community group following complaints.
Loyalist Jamie Bryson yesterday insisted they had not been erected by the UVF, but he was not aware of who had put them up, or why they had done so.
"Within an hour of East Belfast Community Initiative becoming aware of this, the flags have been taken down," he said.
"It's become a storm in a teacup; the flags were gone within an hour of people becoming aware of them."
He added that the East Belfast Community Initiative "had discussions with people who would mediate on behalf of those linked to east Belfast UVF".
"It was made very clear that these flags were not erected by the UVF and as a result of that, within an hour of the East Belfast Community Initiative becoming aware of this the flags have now been taken down," he said.
"We have to question exactly who put these up and their motivation."
South Belfast DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly said she has been working since last October to "seek resolution to issues around flags, particularly in the Ravenhill Avenue area".
"Last year when flags were erected in the Cantrell Close area I stated my commitment to working with everyone to find solutions," she said.
"Three flags were erected on Ravenhill Avenue, close to Cantrell Close. I welcome that these have been removed this morning. I will continue to work with all to seek resolution to these issues."
Cantrell Close was built as a flagship cross-community development as part of the Stormont Executive's Together Building United Community programme.
Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said the residents deserve to be protected.
"I am seeking an urgent meeting with the PSNI, having already written to them this morning, clarifying what resources are being put into policing the area and what action they intend to take to reassure residents in the context of last year's intimidation of families from their homes," he said.
"Shared housing schemes are rare enough in Northern Ireland, so those who live there have actively chosen to live in an area focused on integration, sharing and mutual respect. They deserve the fullest protection possible, rather than being expected to live under the constant threat of paramilitaries."
The SDLP's Claire Hanna welcomed the swift removal of the flags.
The South Belfast MLA said: "I will take this move at face value and hope it applies to every flag that appears over the coming summer months.
"The rule of law must be respected. We cannot allow the flags of murderous and intimidatory gangs to go unchecked."