Belfast Telegraph

Public consultation to be held on flying flags and banners in Belfast

The banner on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast
The banner on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast

Councillors have agreed to hold a public consultation on the flying of flags and banners in Belfast.

The decision was taken at a meeting of Belfast City Council's Strategic Policy and Resources Committee on Friday morning.

Councillors had sought to address the issue after months of arguments over the flying of paramilitary flags and emblems in the city.

The issue was heightened after a number of flags in support of Soldier F were erected in loyalist areas across Belfast.

Soldier F faces prosecution for murder and attempted murder on Bloody Sunday.

In July Sinn Fein proposed a motion to take legal action against the Department for Infrastructure to compel them to remove the flags from their property.   

The motion was opposed by unionist councillors but still passed by 34 votes to 18.

Following the vote no legal action materialised after legal advice and the issue came back before council.

The motion at Friday's meeting to hold a public consultation was proposed by Alliance councillor Emmett McDonough-Brown.

“Flags are often displayed as symbols of marking territory in the community, intimidating residents and visitors, and can even impact businesses’ ability to trade," he said.

A number of loyalist flags on display in Belfast
A number of loyalist flags on display in Belfast

"However, a shared future does not mean a neutral, nondescript future. The right to display legal emblems and flags in a safe and respectful manner is a legitimate way to express your culture.

“Therefore we need to get the views of the public on this issue. It is not good enough for the Council to attempt to take action on an ad hoc basis as flags go up. "

A council spokesperson outlined the decision reached at the meeting.

"Members of Belfast City Council's Strategic Policy and Resources Committee today agreed to consult with members of the public on the presence of flags and banners in the city," the spokesperson said.

"A format and details of this public consultation will be discussed at a future Strategic Policy and Resources Committee.

"The decision of the committee is subject to ratification by full council when it next meets in October."

DUP councillor David Graham said his party opposed the motion as it was "politically contrived" and the issue is not withing the council's remit.

"There has been clear legal advice to the council that the PUL community would be unfairly impacted due to the cultural and historical traditions within that community," he said.

"In the absence of an Assembly, we should remember that Belfast City Council does not have the legal remit to legislate on flags. Therefore, regardless of the outcome, BCC will not be able to implement any proposals.

"This is another outworking of a mess created by Sinn Fein. They originally started by proposing a motion on banners, with the assistance of Alliance, now it has turned into a public consultation.

"The DUP has been consistently opposed to the flying of any paramilitary flags.”

Flags are traditionally erected in the run-up to the summer's parading season and removed later in the year.

They are often erected on public property and lampposts which are owned by the Department for Infrastructure.

The department had said that it was wary of taking action against those who erect the flags as it may "heighten community tensions" and put staff in danger.

Police said the erection of banners was not necessarily a crime and that they would act if the owner of the property the flag or banner was erected on made a complaint.

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