A gigantic metal crown erected on a roundabout without planning permission in Larne, County Antrim, is to remain for another two years at least, the Stormont administration has said.
The issue of flags and symbols are among the topics currently under discussion as part of a talks process under US mediator Richard Haass, but few of the symbols in the north of Ireland are as large as Larne’s roundabout crown.
Although it has a growing Catholic community and serves as a major transit point for those arriving or leaving Ireland by ferry, the loyalist citadel remains synonymous with fervent anti-Catholic sectarianism.
Unionist-dominated Larne Borough Council installed the eight-metre high crown in the middle of the Circular Road roundabout last year, ostensibly to mark the ‘jubilee’ of English queen Elizabeth Windsor.
Erected without the necessary planning approval, the Six-County Department of the Environment this week granted temporary planning permission to the steel structure.
Larne council chief executive Geraldine McGahey was told before it was constructed that it was not permitted development, but that work proceeded on the basis that approval was “unlikely to be denied”.
“We had a discussion with [the planning authority] and made a decision based on information they supplied to us,” she said.
The crown was opposed by Sinn Féin on grounds of equality, but the SDLP’s Mark H. Durkan, Six-County Minister of the Environment, agreed to give temporary planning approval. His department said the council had given a commitment that the structure would be removed from the roundabout in two years time.
Meanwhile, a number of Belfast council workers have claimed they feel the council is putting them “at risk by not removing Irish tricolours from one of their depots.
It is not clear who erected the Irish flags at the Springfield Avenue depot in northwest Belfast, but they appeared after British flags were put up at other council depots.
One employee who works at the Springfield Avenue depot said the tensions began in June this year when Union Jacks went up on a depot in Agnes Street, closer to the city centre.
“Tricolours then appeared on some of the depots and it escalated from that,” he said.
“Nobody seems to know who is putting them up, but somebody must be doing it. After the flags went up, some pictures appeared on Facebook, that’s when the intimidation really started. People were commenting saying ‘burn the scum’, ‘burn them out’, ‘burn the depot down’.
“There were pictures of people outside the depot during the night with loyalist flags but it got a lot more serious when one of the guys got a death threat.
“He got a bullet and a sympathy card in the post. He had to go off on the sick and now he is living on his nerves.”