Irish Republican News · May 3, 2013
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Flags not our problem - Baggott


PSNI police chief Matt Baggott has washed his hands of the controversy over UVF paramilitary flags and other loyalist symbols across Belfast, insisting that the North’s politicians introduce new laws on the issue.

Meanwhile, a report this week confirmed that there are more loyalist flags on display in Belfast than ever.

The issue became controversial after a Belfast City Council decision to reduce the number of days the British Union Jack flag flies over the City Hall to 18 designated days each year.

Hundreds of UVF flags were erected in east Belfast recently, while Union Jacks have also proliferated as loyalists protested over the city council decision.

Loyalists have been using the flags to mark their territory beyond their traditional areas, particularly in east Belfast.

But the PSNI were accused by nationalists of facilitating the UVF, effectively keeping watch as the flags were raised. The police now say that removing these flags is not their responsibility.

At a meeting of the Policing Board on Thursday, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly asked for clarification on the removal of the UVF flags. Baggott responded by saying that erecting a flag, even to cause offence, is not a crime -- but it is “wrong”.

“We have been waiting a long time for the flags protocol to be reviewed, revised and made crystal clear who takes responsibility,” he said.

He said with the marching season underway, it’s time for quiet conversation, compromise and local agreement.

Meanwhile, tensions have increased at a number of sectarian interfaces, with reports of sporadic violence in Oldpark in north Belfast. Last week saw a fresh loyalist ‘protest’ at Holy Cross Catholic girl’s school in nearby Ardoyne, one of the North’s most combustible interfaces, and the scene of a previous campaign of intimidation.

In south Belfast, new paramilitary UVF flags appeared on the Glenmachan Street leading to the Boucher Road, where many of the city’s retail parks are situated.

Meanwhile, loyalists have continued to gather at Belfast City Hall.

A group of about 100 loyalists were there on Saturday as part of the ongoing weekly flag protest at the council building. The group stood outside the city hall as the council marked the granting of the city’s charter on April 27 1613.

North Belfast Sinn Fein councillor Danny Lavery called on the intimidation and violence to stop.

“We don’t want trouble at the interfaces and people have the right to live in peace in their own homes,” he said.

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© 2013 Irish Republican News