Republican flags 'damaging Newcastle's tourism appeal'
Unionists have voiced disgust after Newcastle was festooned with republican flags over the weekend.
The flags, depicting a rifle with the words Cumann na mBan, appeared ahead of Easter Rising commemorations.
Sinn Fein staged a parade around the town on Sunday, ahead of the main demonstration in the area which was held in Castlewellan.
DUP MLA Jim Wells said both the parade and the flags damage Newcastle's ability to welcome tourists over the Easter weekend.
"The flags were raised a few days ago ahead of a Sinn Fein parade in Newcastle on Easter Sunday and will hang around no doubt for a few days yet until someone takes them down," he said.
"This parade (in Newcastle) started only about 10 years ago as a smaller parade before the main one in Castlewellan, and comes at a peak time for visitors.
"It sends out a very unpleasant message to people from all backgrounds to come to the town to enjoy the scenery.
"Those who came to the town were appalled by the flags and parade.
"This is a town that relies on tourism and being able to welcome visitors in a friendly atmosphere."
Ulster Unionist councillor Alan Lewis said he has been contacted by people visiting the town over the Easter weekend who had been taken aback to see the flags.
"Newcastle is a busy tourist destination especially over the Easter weekend," he said.
"Visitors have contacted me to voice disgust at republican paramilitary flags which are flying along the central promenade, not to mention the blatant display of militant glorification on display as a parade took place down Main Street on a busy Sunday afternoon.
"It's unfortunate that republican coat-trailing continues in South Down, damaging community relations while creating unnecessary animosity.
"I call on those with influence to recognise the repercussions of their actions.
"The grotesque triumphalism and sinister nature of republican parades stands in stark contrast to the dignity of loyal order marches which are persecuted by the Parades Commission.
"If only the same standards of scrutiny applied."
Sinn Fein councillor Willie Clarke defended the parade and flags.
"Sinn Fein holds a short annual parade in Newcastle every Easter Sunday before the main Easter commemoration," he said.
"A small number of flags are erected for the parade and are removed within three days by local agreement.
"Jim Wells comments are to be honest patent nonsense and owe more to the DUP's refusal to acknowledge the republican and nationalist identity in South Down and beyond."