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Sinn Fein MLA hits out over flags outside Catholic church in Antrim town


The remaining flags outside St Comgall's Church in Antrim town on Sunday

The remaining flags outside St Comgall's Church in Antrim town on Sunday

The remaining flags outside St Comgall's Church in Antrim town on Sunday

The remaining flags outside St Comgall's Church in Antrim town on Sunday


The remaining flags outside St Comgall's Church in Antrim town on Sunday

A Sinn Fein MLA has hit out after paramilitary and Parachute Regiment flags were erected outside a Catholic church and school in Antrim Town.

Declan Kearney said last week the Chapel Corner area of the town was "festooned" with bunting and a variety of flags, including some "associated with the UDA", Parachute Regiment and local unionist flute bands.

He said two of these flags were removed on Saturday morning prior to a funeral being held at St Comgall's chapel, "but those responsible refused to remove the flute band flags", something he branded "unacceptable and indefensible".

A DUP MLA, however, accused Mr Kearney of "stoking up tensions" through his comments.

Mr Keaney said: "Last week the Chapel Corner was festooned with a variety of flags and bunting. Flags associated with the UDA, British Paratroop (sic) regiment and locally based unionist flute bands were erected in the immediate vicinity of St Comgall’s chapel, school and car park.

“This was both provocative, insensitive and a clear attempt at intimidation.

“I and other Sinn Fein colleagues engaged privately with unionist political representatives and the PSNI in an attempt to secure the removal of these flags at this sensitive location.

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“The Chapel Corner and surrounding residential areas of Antrim Town are shared and neutral community spaces. It is absolutely intolerable that they continue to be abused in this way. However it is particularly outrageous that St Comgall’s chapel should be targeted with the offensive erection of paramilitary, paratroop and band flags."

Mr Kearney added that no place of worship should be subjected to such "disrespect and sectarian intimidation".

"Those responsible for what has happened here should be ashamed of themselves. It is long past time that this type of behaviour is stopped," he said.

“All shared residential, retail, recreational areas and workplaces must be respected, and kept free from sectarian threat or harassment.

“All political and civic leaders, and public agencies have a clear obligation to promote and protect good community relations and to uphold the law.”

In response, Trevor Clarke, DUP MLA for South Antrim, said: "There is no place for paramilitary flags anywhere in Northern Ireland; however the flute band flags belong to bands who parade through the area every five years on the Twelfth of July.

"This appears to be an attempt to stoke up tensions, which did not exist, by Mr Kearney."

Antrim DUP councillor Paul Dunlop said, as a bandsman himself, he sees nothing offensive about flute band flags.

The PSNI said the flags in question were reported to police last Wednesday.

Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said: “Within the current statutory framework, the removal of flags is not the responsibility of the Police Service nor do we have a specific power to do so and we will only act to remove flags where there are assessed risks to public safety owing to their erection.

“We are aware that this is a sensitive issue for the whole community and there is no easy solution. There is no community or political consensus on the flags issue and ultimately this requires a political, not a policing resolution.

“Our experience shows the most effective solution to this issue is negotiation, mediation and engagement between local communities working with agencies including local police.

“We will continue to work with local communities and partners to find long term solutions to the issues surrounding the flying of flags."

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