Sinn Fein removes tricolours at Protestant church in Rostrevor
Sinn Fein has condemned the erection of two Irish tricolours above the bell tower of a Protestant church in Co Down.
The flags were flown from scaffolding at Kilbroney Church of Ireland in Rostrevor, which is undergoing essential maintenance work on its roof.
In a tweet on Sunday, councillors from the Hilltown and Rostrevor area said the actions of the person responsible "do not speak for the community". According to the party, members removed the flags.
Mayor of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Sinn Fein councillor Mickey Ruane, said he expects this to be an isolated incident.
"A national flag should not be used to create community tensions and I would welcome the actions of my colleagues [in removing it]," he commented. "The community relations in the town are first-class. There are works ongoing in the church and both communities have come together to raise the funding for the church renovations. That's the spirit that would be loud and clear in Rostrevor, one of working together.
"The person that did this is working against the best interests of the community. This is not something that would happen here or in the immediate area. This is a one-off incident."
The party said its members were verbally abused while removing the flags.
Sinn Fein South Down MLA Sinead Ennis echoed Mr Ruane's condemnation of the person who carried out the act.
"He [The perpetrator] clearly doesn't know or doesn't care that the Irish national flag is a symbol of peace between our two main traditions," she said.
"It is Sinn Fein's position that no flag or emblem should be erected to mark out territory, to harass, or intimidate anyone and it was clearly provocative to erect flags close to a place of worship."
The church rector, Rev Colin McCormack, highlighted the good community spirit that exists in Rostrevor.
"There has been a lot of support for the church," Rev McCormack said.
"I think this is a one-off thing. I don't believe there to be a serious political motive for this, just somebody playing up and taking advantage of the situation because it isn't occupied."
The Church of Ireland is currently using the facilities of Rostrevor Presbyterian Church while the renovation is taking place.
He added that he was happy with Sinn Fein's quick response.
Independent councillor Jarlath Tinnelly described the incident as "opportunism".
"I would utterly condemn these actions. We have wonderful community relations in Rostrevor, even through the darkest days of the Troubles," he said. "The young people in Rostrevor are great and I would like to think this is nothing more than a St Patrick's Day hi-jinx. I wouldn't like to think there was any malice in it.
"I do understand, however, why members of our small Church of Ireland congregation would be upset by this sort of activity and I would offer them my full support.
"I would concur with sentiments expressed elsewhere that this activity would not have any support within the village.
"We very much regard ourselves as one community."
The church, founded in 1821, was granted £175,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as raising £110,000 from parishioners and members of the local community to help restore the roof. The repairs are expected to be completed in the coming months.