Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein criticises Arlene Foster’s ‘bizarre’ defence of DUP Pride flag stance

The DUP leader has defended a council’s decision to effectively block the erection of the rainbow-coloured flag to coincide with Pride Day.

Sinn Fein has described a claim from Arlene Foster that a bid to fly a Pride flag at a council building was a republican rouse to remove the Union flag as bizarre.

DUP leader Mrs Foster made the claim as she defended her party colleagues in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council (ABC) for effectively blocking the erection of the rainbow-coloured flag at a council building on Saturday.

Councillors had already voted to fly the flag at the weekend, to coincide with the annual Pride Day in the region, but DUP members triggered a procedural mechanism on Tuesday, claiming proper process had not been followed.

The “call-in” mechanism, which needs the backing of 15% of councillors, requires officials to seek legal advice on a course of action before proceeding.

As such legal processes are not set to be completed by Saturday, it is unlikely the Pride flag will now fly as voted for.

Mrs Foster said the DUP move was not about Pride, but about concerns that the Union flag would be taken down from outside the building.

Sinn Fein dismissed the argument, highlighting there was more than one flag pole at the council.

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DUP leader Arlene Foster speaking at a PinkNews LGBT event at Parliament Buildings, Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mrs Foster told BBC Radio Ulster: “As I understand it the issue is not about Pride, the issue is about that the policy in the ABC Council is only to fly the Union flag and the Armed Forces Day flag, which of course contains the Union flag, and colleagues in ABC Council area felt this was a rouse by republicans to remove our national flag, and it’s not about respect or Pride at all.

“And therefore in that context I do support my colleagues in ABC Council.

“We should have respect for each other but not if it’s going to be used as a rouse to take down the national flag.”

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said Mrs Foster’s comments were “disappointing”.

“Their attitude towards the LGBT community is epitomised by their disgraceful attempts to prevent the erection of a Rainbow flag from a civic building and Arlene Foster’s defence of that was quite frankly bizarre,” she said.

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Sinn Fein’s vice president Michelle O’Neill said Mrs Foster’s claims were bizarre (Brian Lawless/PA)

The row comes weeks after Mrs Foster attended her first LGBT event.

The DUP continues to be heavily criticised by gay rights activists for its refusal to legislate for same sex marriage in Northern Ireland. The party insists it is defending the “traditional” definition of marriage.

Green Party Assembly Member Clare Bailey MLA said: “I can’t see any problem with the Pride flag being flown during Pride Week in a respectful way.

“Unfortunately, however, Arlene Foster has described the Pride flag as a threat to the Union flag.

“This is a red herring – the council uses two flag poles and the Pride flag can be flown alongside the Union flag.

“It’s also an ironic position given that Northern Ireland sits outside the UK as a regressive place apart for queer people.

“The Pride flag will be visible during Pride week across Northern Ireland as people from all walks of life celebrate diversity and call for equality.”

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