Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein MP hits out at cherry picker 'blocking road to erect flags'

By Michael Sheils McNamee

A Sinn Fein MP has hit out against loyalist groups using cherry pickers to erect flags on lampposts around Omagh.

In a tweet on Wednesday night Barry McElduff, Sinn Fein’s newly elected MP for West Tyrone, wrote that those putting up the flags had "no regard for the motorists in Omagh this eve".

He added: "Loyalists mask their insecurity by putting English & Scottish flegs on nearly every pole."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr McElduff said that he made the post on social media after the issue was brought to his attention by local people.

"The point they were making was that there was no kind of traffic management. It was just like a takeover of the road by loyalists with cherry pickers - no regard for the rule of the road," he said.

"There was a number of occasions where it was like the wild west. They were in Campsie, they were in Drumragh Avenue. It was as if they run the show. They were riding roughshod over everyone else.

"It creates a false impression of Omagh society, it isn’t good for business locally. You are talking about the county town of Tyrone. And this happens every year, it is a kind of perennially a problem for the town."

McElduff also called on unionist leaders to ensure that the flags were taken down as soon as possible, and for the PSNI to monitor situations where cherry pickers could be causing traffic infringements.

Local DUP councillor Errol Thompson responded to McElduff's comments by saying "there is nothing new in what has happened".

"The district lodge would act very responsibly. They would put flags up, not permanent flags. There would be the Union flag, maybe Scottish flags in there as well. And then the Orange Lodge flag. They go up year on year, and they come down again," he said.

"Marshalls and handlers put them up, and it is very well conducted the way that it is carried out. Barry would well know my sentiments on this."

The Omagh section of Transport NI confirmed that by using a mobile cherry picker no offence is being committed, and operators are allowed to erect flags at their own risk.

The PSNI confirmed that they had not received any complaints about the flags being put up.

This is not the first time that the use of cherry pickers has become a political issue in Northern Ireland.

In 2013, police came in for criticism after a group of men, some allegedly masked, were able to direct traffic while using one of the machines to erect Ulster Volunteer Force flags along a parade route in east Belfast.

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