Belfast Telegraph

SDLP's Claire Hanna not convinced by new loyalist flags protocol

South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna has said that the new flags protocol put forward by East Belfast Community Initiative (EBCI) and DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly, poses as many questions as it answers.

“Assumptions from loyalists that the greater public should in some way be grateful for the fact that these flags will on be flown from public lampposts for 4 months of the year is astonishing, and it doesn’t address the many flags that are still up from previous years," the SDLP MLA said.

Her comments come after the East Belfast Community Initiative (EBCI) agreed that they will only fly legal flags in public spaces during certain months.

The move is understood to have the support of loyalist groups in east Belfast, North Down and Newtownards.

Under the new agreement flags will only be flown from June 1 and taken down following Ulster Day on September 28th.

Groups have agreed that all flags will be removed by October 7 at the latest.

Only legal flags will be allowed to be flown during the designated period, although this is understood to include "historic UVF flags".

Legal flags are defined as those flags which would not fall under the provisions of the Terrorism Act 2006 in relation to inviting support for a proscribed organisation.

Tattered, torn or otherwise damaged flags are to be removed or replaced at the earliest opportunity and flags, kept in good condition are to be flown 365 days a year from memorials, murals or other areas of commemoration.

It is the first agreement on flags from loyalist groups since 2012, when protocols were abandoned after Belfast City Council voted to only fly the Union Jack flag on certain days.

In a statement the EBCI said: "All of those involved in discussions have reaffirmed their commitment to adherence to the rule of law, and the protection of long-standing cultural traditions.

"Accordingly groups associated with the EBCI have agreed to fly only legal flags, and this is defined as those flags which would not fall under the provisions of the Terrorism Act 2006 in relation to inviting support for a proscribed organisation.

"This is an extremely positive step by the groups, who have agreed to self regulate to ensure that our culture is displayed in the best possible manner.

"We are not blind to the contrived attempts by groups fronted up by arms-length Sinn Féin activists to make every aspect of unionist culture contentious.

"The EBCI will always engage positively in any discussions that will further our objective of protecting unionist cultural expression, and it is our firm belief that this protocol provides the framework for advancing that objective.

"We reaffirm our commitment to the rule of law, and it is in this context that we have obtained voluntary agreement that only legal flags will be erected by those loyalists associated with EBCI.

"We would hope that this commitment will be widely welcomed and we look forward to peaceful summer of positive cultural celebration."

However SDLP MLA Hanna said that the proposals contained many flaws.

“While I try to take any ‘progress’ at face value, it is hard to know where to start with the flaws within this proposal and the way in which it has been brought forward," she said.

“The notion that because the ‘nudge wink historical’ UVF flags may technically not represent glorification of terrorism provides no comfort to those intimidated or unnerved by the emblem of a murder and extortion gang flying free on public furniture, against the wishes of most of those who live and work there.

“Whilst it is unclear whether this ‘protocol’ is supposed to apply to South Belfast, it is abundantly clear that neither the UVF nor Emma Pengelly can speak for all the residents of South Belfast, East Belfast and North Down and the arrogance of announcing a self-serving protocol with no consultation with residents is ridiculous. Loyalism has zero record on self-regulation and no amount of DUP trying to vault that democratic process can hide that.”

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