The PSNI police has been accused of “working hand in glove” with the unionist paramilitary LVF to erect flags in the nationalist end of Lurgan town last week.
Local nationalists made video recordings showing the PSNI working with senior LVF figures to erect loyalist flags in Lurgan town centre. PSNI members then attempted to steal mobile phones and other photographic equipment from nationalists monitoring their behaviour.
Sinn Féin Assembly member for the area, John O’Dowd is to initiate a formal complaint with the Police Ombudsman into the matter.
“Up to six PSNI land rovers and dozens of armed PSNI members in riot gear hemmed the nationalist community in as the illegal operation to erect the flags was completed,” he said.
“Nationalists in Lurgan are furious both with the erection of the flags and the role of the PSNI and LVF in this.”
Mr O’Dowd said the Land Rovers “effectively sealed off” the nationalist end of the town at around 9pm.
“The purpose of this PSNI operation was to allow known members of the LVF to erect loyalist flags on lamp-posts the whole length of the town centre,” he said.
Catholic owned homes on the nearby Antrim Road were later attacked by a loyalist mob and the PSNI failed to turn up when contacted by a local resident.
Catholic residents in Derry’s Waterside have expressed concern over the erection of loyalist flags on lamp posts along one of the main arterial routes into the city.
The flags - including UVF paramilitary flags - were erected close to Irish Street over the weekend.
The PSNI said all flags in the area were legal, claiming the flags may be commemorating the old UVF of 1912.
A Catholic man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was faced with a “sea of flags” whenever he left home.
“I live in a mixed area and I wouldn’t dream of putting out an Irish tricolour on St Patrick’s Day,” he said.
“I could understand the Union flag or the Ulster flag but there are also UVF flags and that is very threatening.”
Meanwhile, a UDA banner was controversially erected in a mixed residential area of south Belfast ahead of an Orange Order parade on Ormeau Road.
Thhe banner placed near the entrance to Annadale flats at the junction of Candahar Street and Haypark Drive reads ‘Annadale Loyalists, Ormeau Road Battallion, South Belfast’, with UDA insignia and a clenched red hand of Ulster.
Sinn Féin assembly member for South Belfast Alex Maskey said that the perception of the area as a well integrated one had led to an increase in the number of flags and banners.
“This area has been held up by the Housing Executive as a shining example of a mixed housing with more Catholics and ethnic communities moving in to the area,” he said.
“But that hasn’t been maintained. There has been an increase in the number of flags and the Parades Commission have allowed flute bands to go right through all of those streets, something that hasn’t been allowed in the past.
“Whatever happened to traditional routes? Nationalist expression of opinion would not be allowed in the same way.
“In some ways the fact that the area is being viewed as this highlight of mixed housing is masking some of the activity that is going on there, with more flags and bigger bonfires in the area.”
However, a finding that Lisburn City Council disregarded equality rules controlling the display of flags has been welcomed as a “victory against discrimination and sectarianism”.
An investigation by the Equality Commission following a complaint found that the council had introduced a policy in May 2005 of flying the Union flag permanently from six council locations.
The commission said the policy was in breach of an earlier policy introduced after an equality impact assessment limiting flying of the flag to 19 designated days.
Sinn Féin councillor Paul Butler, who had made the complaint to the commission, welcomed its decision.
“It’s a victory against sectarianism and discrimination by Lisburn City Council,” he said.
“It vindicates entirely the approach adopted by myself and the other Sinn Féin councillors in Lisburn and places very much in public dock the manner in which the DUP in particular have approached civic matters in the borough.
“Lisburn council need now to act immediately and remove the Union Jack from council buildings. If they do not I will not hesitate in taking further legal action.”
Mr Butler claimed the decision could also have implications for other council areas.