Belfast Telegraph

Parties still at loggerheads after report on DUP blocking of Pride flag

By Gillian Halliday

Both the DUP and Sinn Fein have claimed to have been vindicated by a legal report after the unionist party blocked a bid to fly rainbow flags for a council's Pride Day celebrations.

Sinn Fein had spearheaded an attempt to fly the flags on Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC) Council premises to show support to LGBTQ+ citizens during Pride.

The council had been set to make history by becoming the first in Northern Ireland to fly the Pride flag above its three main civic buildings.

But the DUP had invoked the 'call-in' mechanism, which allows decisions to be called back to be reconsidered if at least 15% of councillors request it.

The DUP had said strict procedures on flying flags and emblems hadn't been followed properly.

The council then sought legal advice, which both parties claim justifies their stance.

Meanwhile, the row meant Pride Day on Saturday, August 4 passed without the flags in place.

Sinn Fein said the "legal advice demonstrates clearly that the call-in was devoid of merit".

"Flying the rainbow flag had the potential to hurt, damage and offend no one," insisted Councillor Catherine Nelson, who was speaking after the legal advice was presented at Tuesday's latest monthly council meeting.

The Sinn Fein councillor added that the findings of the report demonstrated that the DUP's use of the veto mechanism, which was not completed in time for the Pride Day celebrations, had been nothing but a "time-wasting exercise".

"It was not contrary to current policies. Flying it would have had no adverse impact on other communities," she said.

She was referring to accusations made at the time by DUP councillors members that republicans were using the Pride flag as a "ruse" to remove the Union flag - a claim that was subsequently defended by Arlene Foster.

Ms Nelson continued: "The DUP's sole intention in enacting this call-in was to block the flying of the rainbow flag."

Describing the "delaying" tactic as an "offensive stunt", she further claimed it was indicative of the DUP's stance on LGBTQ+ rights.

"In calling the motion in, the DUP rolled us back from a progressive step. They denied our LGBTQ+ citizens a gesture of support and solidarity," she added.

"We will be bringing forward a motion to ensure the Pride flag flies proudly from our civic buildings next year."

DUP council group leader Mark Baxter, however, rejected Sinn Fein's accusations.

He said the legal advice "vindicated" his party "in terms of procedure for flying flags and emblems" by the council.

"The legal advice was abundantly clear that procedure had not been followed," the councillor said.

"No equality impact assessment was carried out in terms of flying a flag, other than the national flag from official council flag poles.

"This was no fault of officers in council but rather the political stunt from Sinn Fein.

"They clearly brought the motion to the floor as an after-thought given the ill prepared nature, with virtually no notice - a point which is also emphasised in the legal advice."

He added: "Our call-in exposed this."

Belfast Telegraph

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