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Unionists back plan to fly Union flag on scandal-hit Andrew's birthday

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Prince Andrew,  Duke of York

Prince Andrew, Duke of York

Prince Andrew, Duke of York

Unionists have backed plans to fly the Union flag to mark scandal-hit Prince Andrew's 60th birthday, while the SDLP has called it "morally wrong".

The birthday of the controversial royal is still allocated one of the 17 designated days for flying the Union flag on government buildings here.

It has been confirmed the flag will be flown as normal at Belfast City Hall and Stormont Estate on February 19.

A list of designated days is set out by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) - although the Government is to tell councils they are no longer required to fly flags to mark Andrew's 60th birthday.

The Duke of York is facing allegations he slept with Virginia Giuffre, who claims she was trafficked by the late US sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Andrew's friend.

He strenuously denies any wrongdoing but is facing calls to talk to the FBI and US prosecutors.

Councils here are allowed to decide if they wish to observe designated days.

In December 2012, a vote to only fly the flag at Belfast City Hall on designated days rather than all-year round sparked protests and riots by loyalists.

DUP group leader on Belfast City Council George Dorrian said it was not for his party to change designated days.

"Belfast City Council has agreed that it will fly the Union flag on the list of days set out by DCMS," he said.

"Any changes to that list are a matter for the department and the royal household, not Belfast councillors."

UUP councillor Jim Rodgers also supported the status quo.

"It's a difficult question. I'm not happy at what (Prince Andrew) has been accused of, it's concerning," he said.

"But if it's a designated day, for me, unless somebody brings another option to the table, it should still be a designated day.

"That's not going to please everybody, but there's those who support Prince Andrew and those who don't.

"To me, it's one of the designated days, so just let it go on."

The SDLP group leader on Belfast City Council, Donal Lyons, said it was no longer appropriate.

"The SDLP supports the agreed council position of designated days as a fair compromise," Mr Lyons said. "However, we're obviously dealing with an exceptional set of circumstances involving a particular individual and, in light of the ongoing investigation, I don't think it's appropriate to fly a flag to mark his birthday, and doing so would leave a bad taste in the mouths of many."

He added: "Prince Andrew's failure to co-operate fully with authorities is disgraceful and sends a worrying message.

"I don't think any flag should be flown anywhere in celebration of his birthday and DCMS needs to urgently reconsider their recommendation. I'd hope that the unionist parties would be clear-headed enough to recognise the problem here.

"Celebrating anyone who has these type of serious questions to answer is morally wrong."

Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party have yet to comment.

Both Belfast City Council and the Assembly said the flag will be flown on February 19, following guidance from DCMS.

However, Downing Street said the matter was being looked into after critics branded the celebration "crass and offensive".

A Government spokesman said: "The Department of Culture, Media and Sport will be advising councils that there is no requirement to fly flags on February 19 following the decision by the Duke of York to step back from public duties for the foreseeable future."

Belfast Telegraph