Sinn Féin flags debate
Sinn Féin flags debate

The Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast has unveiled an Irish flag in his official offices, while a County Derry colleague has questioned the public’s use of the flag.

Tom Hartley, the second member of his party to be elected first citizen in the city, said the move was designed to engender greater parity of esteem.

His decision provoked predictable outrage from unionists, who have said the flag of a “foreign country” should have no place at Belfast City Hall.

Mr Hartley said: “I’m hoping to show that it’s possible for the mayor -- to act in an inclusive way and to engage with all the citizens of Belfast - principally the unionist and nationalist communities.

“I inherited an office with a union flag in it, so rather than remove the union flag I decided to locate an Irish Tricolour in the office,” Mr Hartley said.

However Ulster Unionist councillor Fred Cobain said the would offend most unionists. He said: “Clearly they are doing this only for their own supporters. Parity of esteem has happened, it has been played out already.”

The unveiling was attended by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams along with senior councillors from the party from a range of local councils on both sides of the Border.

“The presence of Sinn Féin chairpersons and mayors on so many councils across Ulster is a potent reminder of the growth of the party in recent years,” he said.

The West Belfast MP said he acknowledged the “great challenges” facing both republicanism and unionism in the weeks and months ahead.

Alex Maskey, Belfast’s first Sinn Féin Mayor, elected in 2002, also placed a Tricolour in his parlour next to the union flag.

Mr Hartley’s parlour is temporarily located in offices in the docklands area of Belfast pending the restoration of City Hall.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has questioned the flying of the Irish tricolour from lamp-posts in Dungiven, County Derry, to commemorate the death of hunger striker Kevin Lynch.

East Derry assembly member Francie Brolly called for a debate on how the flag is used and suggested bunting should be used during parades instead.

Irish tricolours are flown along Dungiven’s Main Street each year to mark the death in 1981 of INLA man Kevin Lynch after 71 days on hunger strike.

Organisers of a commemorative parade said they were surprised by Mr Brolly’s comments as there had never been problems with the flags before.

But Mr Brolly, Sinn Féin’s culture spokesman, said there was a need for a wide-ranging discussion within republicanism and nationalism about the protocol for flying the tricolour.

“As we commemorate the hunger strikers and all of our patriot dead it is understandable that the flag is displayed and flown in their honour,’’ Mr Brolly said.

“However, it is the manner in which the flag is displayed that is cause for concern. The national flag should at all times command the highest degree of respect.”

Mr Brolly accepted that the organisers of the commemoration had always ensured the tricolour was only flown for the duration of the event, but he said this was not always the case.

“Too often we see the national flag dishonoured, not only by being displayed on lamp-posts, telegraph poles and even trees but even more dishonouring is that flags of particular football clubs are flown above the tricolour on the same pole,” he said.

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