Poundworld removes St Patrick's Day tricolour bunting from Belfast shop after customers complain
A St Patrick's Day emblems row has blown up after a Belfast city centre store withdrew Irish tricolour flags and green, white and orange bunting from sale after complaints from customers.
UK-wide chain store Poundworld said the flags and bunting were part of their St Patrick's Day items on sale throughout the UK, but that the range is not normally sold in a number of stores in Northern Ireland.
The firm said it put the flags and bunting for sale in their Donegall Place branch "in error".
The shop is close to City Hall where a St Patrick's Day parade leaves from today.
A Poundworld spokeswoman confirmed that after complaints from customers they withdrew the Irish flags and bunting from sale.
She said: "The tricolour flag and bunting is part of our St Patrick's Day range that is on sale throughout the UK.
"We have a number of stores in Northern Ireland, however there are certain areas where the St Patrick's Day range is not usually sold, including Donegall Place, Cityside and Connswater.
"We have 10 stores in Northern Ireland. The decision was made to remove the tricolour from sale in Donegall Place due to complaints. At Bangor, Newtownards, Connswater and Cityside we do not sell the St Patrick's Day range, this includes the tricolour, however this is purely based on poor historical sales in those stores."
Poundworld managing director Chris Edwards added: "The tricolour flag and bunting were placed on sale at our Donegall Place store in error. We are mindful of the sensitivities surrounding the flag and it was removed from sale as soon as we were made aware of it."
The firm confirmed they do not sell Union flags in any stores in Northern Ireland.
Belfast Sinn Fein councillor Niall ÓDonnghaile said: "There is kind of a broader discussion to be had around respecting allegiances.
"If people want to sell and buy a tricolour they should have the freedom to do so.
"But we do have to be respectful. I am aware the national flag should be treated with respect, whether in a shop or on St Patrick's Day. The flag should be respected and for me waving it and trailing it along the ground is not the way to do that.
"This is a sorry state of affairs, It is unfortunate that when we are in a climate of trying to cater for respect that people see one day their national flag in a shop and the next day it is not," the Sinn Fein councillor said.
Belfast DUP councillor Christopher Stalford said: "I think people could do a lot worse than to look at the example of councils around Northern Ireland that have worked to try and de-politicise celebrations around the life of Patrick. In Belfast we have done the same in terms of the events the council provide, because we recognise that the celebration should be one that everyone, regardless of their political outlook, can participate in.
"I hope that in Belfast we will not see political statements being made around something that is ostensibly a faith-based celebration and should be respected as such. St Patrick's Day should be for everyone, whether a unionist or nationalist."
The Irish tricolour flags were on sale at the Donegall Place branch of Poundworld for several days before being removed after complaints. Yesterday, the only St Patrick's Day items on sale in the shop were green ties with shamrocks.
People are expected to gather in the area today for a St Patrick's Day parade which starts at the nearby City Hall. The City Hall is also the scene of regular Union Flag protests following the decision to stop flying it there every day of the year.