Belfast Telegraph

Wariness over likely impact of terror flag initiative in Belfast

By Allan Preston

Most people on the Belmont Road in east Belfast yesterday said they favoured removing all UVF flags and rejected new proposals to limit them to between June and October.

Billy, from the east of the city and aged in his 60s, rejected any notion this was progress.

"There's no such a thing as a legal UVF flag - these people aren't the UVF," he said. "Today the UVF are nothing but gangsters and hoods."

He declined to be photographed for fear of "a visit from the men with woolly faces", and said: "There should be no flags flying except the Union flag or the emblem for Belfast City Hall.

"The real UVF died on July 1, 1916, when they went over the top at the Battle of the Somme.

"Five hundred were dead and wounded in one morning. I'd tell them to go out to Thiepval and have a look at the graveyards.

"There's thousands of men buried out there. Very rarely do the people putting these flags up mention the Irish Catholic boys who fought with them."

Addressing the East Belfast Community Initiative, he added: "They're concentrating on the wrong things - flags and bonfires. The politicians need to get back up on that hill at Stormont and sort it out."

Jason Gibbins (20) said UVF flags were "a bit too much for some people". "I would blank them out when I see them, but I know people from different religious backgrounds would be intimidated, especially older generations who lived through the Troubles," he added.

He said it was impossible to separate the UVF of the First World War from the UVF of the Troubles.

"I think the association with the Troubles is too strong," he stressed.

"A UVF flag to me is more about sectarian conflict than the First World War.

"I feel they (the flags) need to go. People shouldn't have to walk through their own home town and feel intimidated."

Kyra Skinner (20), from Newtownards, and Corey Weir (22) were house-hunting in east Belfast yesterday. "It doesn't bother me - they're just flags and I don't notice them," said Kyra. "But I can understand people feeling intimidated. They're not nice to look at when they're in your face."

Corey said the proposals may improve matters.

"I wouldn't mind either way, but everyone looks at it differently," he added. "I think limiting the amount of time they're up would be a start, though."

Friends Sam Crawford (31) and Ali Clarkson (19) did not believe the proposal would work.

"It's complicated with the history of the UVF as well," said Sam.

"I live down in Sydenham and think they (flags) aren't used in a historical sense - it's more current."

Ali added: "The Belmont Road here is always packed with them during the Twelfth anyway, so if you have to put these flags up you should only be talking about days, not months."

Ian Fleck (50), from north Belfast, works in the east of the city.

"I don't see the point of putting them up at all, to be honest with you," he said. "They should ban all flags in the city.

"Despite what they say, you know for a fact they won't be taking the flags down in October anyway.

"I'm a Protestant and I do view them as intimidating, and lots of others would too, especially if they weren't from Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph

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