Belfast Telegraph

Soldier F banner prosecution won't solve issue say Stormont officials wary of 'heightening community tensions'

Sinn Fein calls for a special meeting of Belfast City Council to force DfI to remove Soldier F banners.

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
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

A Stormont department has said it is wary of beginning legal action against people who illegally fly banners as it may "heighten community tensions" and put its staff in danger.

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has come under pressure to remove banners supporting Soldier F, who is to be prosecuted for murder and attempted murder at Bloody Sunday, after several were erected across Northern Ireland.

The PSNI has said the erection of the banners did not necessarily constitute a crime unless the owner of the property it was attached to did not consent. DfI has said it has not given any permission for the banners to be strung from its lampposts.

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, a DfI spokeswoman said that the illegal display of flags and banners continues to be a difficult issue for many people.

"The department does investigate complaints and we work closely with colleagues in the PSNI on all such cases," the spokeswoman said.

"However, the reality is prosecution does not solve the underlying factors that give rise to such displays and we need also to be mindful of the broader issues including heightening of community tension and compromising the safety of our staff."

The spokeswoman said it will take action if displays create road safety concerns, if there is clear community support for their removal and where the department is satisfied that removing them will not raise community tensions or present risks to the safety of its staff and contractors.

“We will always act on the advice of our PSNI colleagues on such matters. We are also keen to engage with local councils and political representatives to respond to requests from local communities," the spokeswoman added.

The department's response comes after Sinn Fein called for a special meeting of Belfast City Council to discuss taking legal action to compel DfI to remove the Soldier F banners.

Mr Beattie said the banners had caused widespread hurt.

"Many of these flags and banners are attached to lampposts which are the property of the DfI," he said.

"In other areas where these flags and banners have been put up the local council has taken a united position calling for their removal.

"Hopefully this will be a step towards the removal of these offensive flags and banners across our city."

PSNI assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton said that the flying of Parachute Regiment banners was not a criminal offence.

"However the erection of these banners or flags without permission may constitute an offence if the owners wish to pursue a prosecution," she said.

"Police will act to support the removal of banners by those who have responsibility for a structure on which the item is displayed but we will only consider removing such items ourselves where there is an imminent and immediate likelihood of a breach of the peace," he said.

"The most effective solution to this issues is community resolution with engagement between local communities working with local agencies and resulting in local decision-making.”

"We will continue to work with communities and partners to find lasting solutions however police action on its own is not sufficient."

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