Paramilitary flags an attempt to intimidate

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A loyalist bonfire group has said unionists will never remove any flag “at the behest of Sinn Fein/IRA” after the party complained about flags erected near Belfast City Airport.

Sinn Fein councillor Mairead O’Donnell had called on unionist politicians to “act urgently” after unionist paramilitary and Union Jack flags were erected at the entrance to Sydenham train station. They are one of the first sights to greet visitors using the station.

In a statement on Facebook, Sydenham Bonfire group said the flags “will always fly in East Belfast”.

“We have one of Sinn Fein’s new agitators poking their nose into unionist areas of East Belfast. This will not be tolerated and it is quite conceivable that many more flags will now be erected to send a strong message to Sinn Fein,” they said.

They added: “The unionist community of East Belfast will never remove any flag at the behest of Sinn Fein/IRA.”

The same group held a provocative “fun day” on the day of the funeral of Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness earlier this year.

Ms O’Donnell said: “The display of loyalist flags, including a paramilitary emblem, is deliberately provocative and intimidatory, particularly to nationalists who regularly use this line.

“Given the enormous efforts and resources that we expend on attracting tourists and business people to our city, this sectarian display also sends out an entirely wrong and negative message to these visitors.

“I would urge unionist politicians in East Belfast to speak out against this sectarian behaviour and to act urgently to have these flags removed.”

The PSNI police said they would not intervene. A spokesperson said: “The removal of flags is not the responsibility of the PSNI and police will only act to remove flags where there are substantial risks to public safety.”

UDA flags have also appeared in a mixed area of Glengormley in north Belfast. The flags were put up overnight at the same time Sinn Fein election posters were also ripped down in the area.

Local Sinn Fein representative Gerry Kelly said it was another attempt to intimidate.

“I would call on community representatives and other political parties to call for the removal of the flags. This attempted intimidation will not work but does raise tensions in the area as we approach the marching season.”

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