Storm erupts after Craigavon Council votes to fly Union flag every day
A Union flag was erected before this morning at Craigavon Civic Centre - unionist-controlled Craigavon Council's offices - following a controversial vote last night to fly it every single day of the year.
On a majority vote the council decided to fly the flag all year round although it will cease to be in existence in 71 days' time on March 31.
The decision has infuriated Sinn Fein.
On April 1, Craigavon will merge with Banbridge Council and Armagh Council to form a new super-council and that body does not yet have a flag policy.
A council source said: "In recent years Craigavon Council's policy was to fly the Union flag on 17 designated days each year but the status quo is now that it is flown every day from the flag pole at the Civic Centre and it will be in place before 9 o'clock on Tuesday.
"The new super-council will hold its meetings at the Civic Centre and although it has yet to agree a policy on the flag it is anticipated that in the meantime until that decision is taken the Union flag will be in place until then."
The decision to fly the flag every day was proposed by the DUP and backed by the Ulster Unionists while a Sinn Féin proposal that no flags be flown was rejected.
Craigavon Council's DUP group leader Carla Lockhart has welcomed the decision.
She said: "This is the right decision for the council as it recognises our national flag and that the borough is part of the United Kingdom."
Ms Lockhart said the decision to have the flag flown all year round only on the main council building was a "compromise" as the original position was for seven locations.
She said: "This compromise on our original proposal of seven locations will strike the right balance between acknowledging Northern Ireland's constitutional position and not causing offence to those who oppose it.
"By making this decision I trust it will go some way to reducing the number of flags placed on lamp-posts which ultimately become torn."
Craigavon Sinn Féin councillor Gemma McKenna described the year-round Union flag decision as "illogical and most likely illegal as it flies in the face of advice from the Equality Commission, legal advice and advice from the council's chief executive".
Ms McKenna said: "Tonight's decision by unionist councillors follows a full EQIA (equality) consultation which clearly showed there was no interest or support for the flying of the Union flag.
"Despite spending £10,000 of ratepayers' money on the consultation, unionist councillors chose to ignore the consultation results and all the legal advice given.
"This is the depressing final legacy of Craigavon Council that has unfortunately been stained by unionist dogma and sectarianism. Sinn Féin will be seeking legal advice on this matter and are determined to ensure that those councillors who have left the ratepayers of Craigavon facing further legal expense are held fully to account for wasting funds."
Flags have always been controversial in Northern Ireland.
In December 2012 Belfast City Council stopped flying the Union flag every day of the year in favour of 'designated' days.
In response, loyalists mounted major street protests and there were widespread clashes with police.
Across Northern Ireland councils have differing policies. Some councils fly no flags, others only fly the Union flag on designated days while others fly it 365 days a year.
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