The PSNI has denied that there has been a change in how it polices the contentious problem of loyalist flags.
British Union Jacks, ‘Northern Ireland’ flags and other paramilitary flags are once again proliferating at sectarian interfaces in the north as the Protestant marching season intensifies in the North.
On Thursday, it was reported that the PSNI was set to take down loyalist flags in the Ballynafeigh area on the Ormeau Road as a breach of the peace.
In a statement to the BBC politics programme ‘The View’, a PSNI spokesperson said tensions were “particularly heightened” by the number of flags being erected in the mixed area.
“As a result, police have directed that any future erection of flags on this part of the Ormeau Road will be treated as a breach of the peace.”
One academic described the move as the ‘most significant in years’. But after coming under criticism by unionists, the PSNI quickly changed course.
“The removal of flags is not the responsibility of the PSNI and police can only act to remove flags where there are substantial risks to public safety,” it said in a statement.
“This is entirely in line with existing PSNI policy and practice and does not represent any change in that policy.”
The u-turn has recalled an infamous decision in 2011, when the PSNI issued an apology to loyalists who had rioted when members of the force took down loyalist flags erected outside a Catholic church in the town of Ballyclare, County Antrim.
Earlier this week, Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey said PSNI members who had watched flags being put up “brought themselves into disrepute.” He said the erection of flags was “bad for the local economy and very bad for local community relations”.
Meanwhile, a controversial parade which had been rerouted by the Parades commission passed off without incident in north Belfast last weekend.
On Saturday 7th June, in heavy rain and in front of a large PSNI presence, members of the anti-Catholic Orange Order walked up to a police line where they remained for a short time before dispersing, and without entering the Catholic Ardoyne area.
But there were new tensions elsewhere.
In Dungiven, County Derry, hardline unionist Gregory Campbell described a peaceful protest against a sectarian parade as “a retrograde step for community relations”.
He also claimed that Sinn Fein councillors had attempted to block the path of the Orangemen marching through the overwhelmingly Catholic town last Sunday.
Sinn Fein’s Sean McGlinchey denied this. “Sinn Fein councillors were in attendance to monitor the parade but at no stage did any councillor attempt to interfere with the parade,” he said.
“This parade by local Orangemen has been facilitated for years without any controversy but this year there was an attempt to increase the numbers taking part by bringing in Orangemen from other areas.
“Local residents are afraid this is the first step in turning it into a larger parade through the 99.7% nationalist village.
“Sinn Fein is calling for dialogue with the local Orange Order and Unionist community in order to diffuse the situation and return to the original arrangement.”