Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein MP Hazzard criticises council for community group fines warning amid Soldier F banner 'inaction'

A flag in support of the Parachute Regiment on the Lisburn Road in Belfast
A flag in support of the Parachute Regiment on the Lisburn Road in Belfast

A Sinn Fein MP has criticised Newry, Mourne and Down District Council for saying they'll "fine" community groups for erecting signs without permission while allowing contentious flags and banners.

Chris Hazzard has described the move by the council, who has warned of a £50 fine for unauthorised signs advertising coffee mornings and fun runs, as "bizarre".

Speaking to the Irish News, he said said parents could be penalised putting up signs warning of children at play while others erect signs "designed to cause hurt" with "impunity".

"Parents could be penalised in this way while others are apparently allowed to erect signs, paramilitary flags and banners – designed to cause hurt and offence to the families whose loved ones were killed by the British army on Bloody Sunday – with impunity across the north," he said.

A circulated email warned community groups about the potential "fines".

"If someone erects a sign (without permission) on any pole, tree, railing or verge adopted by Roads Service, it will be removed, and charge a fee of £50 (per sign) for doing so," it said.

"In recent times, due to a lack of resources, roads services have not been enforcing this and sometimes members of the public are unaware it is against the law.

"So if you are affiliated to any club, charity, organisation or offering advice to a new business etc, please pass on the word."

It gave a list of the types of sign that can be "lifted". They include football clubs promoting events; groups organising "coffee mornings/fun runs for charities such as Marie Curie or Macmillan"; and "truck runs/ vintage car rallies/ sports days/ slimming clubs/ and other general events".

Resident groups "with things such as neighbourhood watch, traffic speeding signs etc" could face charges, it suggested - as well as signs for estate agents and small businesses.

"Also, there is a misconception that if the sign is on wheels, ie. a trailer, it is okay. It is not," the message read.

"Trailers abandoned on verges are an obstruction and a danger to road users and can also be removed (at a larger fee)."

It is unclear whether the threatened fines would be imposed by the council or the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), which has responsibility for roads.

Mr Hazzard said he believed the council memo was sent on DfI's behalf and said he would be seeking a meeting with the department.

The former Stormont Infrastructure minister said: "It is unacceptable that parents, community groups and road safety campaigners could be facing fines for putting up signs that could help save the lives of children.

"Often these signs are put up by parents and others as a last resort after calling on the Department to put up official signs."

A spokesperson for Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said: "Newry, Mourne and Down District Council circulated information on these charges to local community groups at the request of the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) following a local Interagency meeting.

"In the process of communicating this information to the community groups the Council used the word ‘fines’ instead of ‘charges’.  The Council has no responsibility for issuing fines/charges in relation to this matter."

The Department for Infrastructure has been approached for a comment.

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