There has been a public protest at the erection of loyalist paramilitary flags in South Belfast after the recently elected MP, Emma Little-Pengelly of the Democratic Unionists, claimed that she sees ‘no demand’ for their removal and that residents ‘do not want a fuss’.
Hundreds of south Belfast residents turned up at an unusual protest on Friday night to demand the removal of the UVF and other flags in a ‘shared neighbourhoods’ area.
Global Crescent and Cantrell Close off Ravenhill Avenue are part of the ‘Together Building United Communities’ programme which aims to improve community relations and work towards a more united and shared society.
Two flags have now been hung from the majority of lampposts in the area, which is close to the loyalist Ravenhill Avenue and Woodstock Road.
Displays of loyalist flags, a feature of the Protestant summer marching season every year, are coat trailing and intimidatory devices used to stake a claim to ‘Protestant territory’. Successive Stormont administrations have refused to act against the flags, despite their being a breach of the Good Friday Agreement’s claim to afford nationalists the right to live free from sectarian harassment.
In 2014 the PSNI said it would treat the erection of flags in the area as a ‘breach of the peace’, but quickly reneged on this position.
Around 250 people attended the rally on Fridau, and a petition demanding the removal of flags and protecting ‘shared neighbourhoods’ has already attracted almost 2,000 signatures.
“This is not a political rally, rather it is an organic response to frustration, fear and lack of action,” said one resident.
Local MP Little Pengelly claimed she spent a number of hours going door-to-door to meet local residents on Monday evening, and there mixed opinions.
“The majority of people said to me: ‘We understand that the flags have gone up, but we also understand that they will come back down again’,” she said. “Really they didn’t want a public fuss around this matter,” she added.
Little-Pengelly was recengtly elected to the South Belfast Westminster seat thanks in part to an endorsement by the Loyalist Communities Council, which represents the combined paramilitary strength of the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando.
SDLP assembly member Claire Hanna described the MP’s comments as “outrageous”.
“These flags are designed to intimidate and divide,” she said.
“In the face of intimidation by paramilitary organisations, it’s no surprise that people are frightened of going public with their concerns on the issue.”
Elsewhere, racist flags have also been raised in Lisburn, where confederate flags have been erected, and in Kilkeel, where loyalists have raised Israeli flags.
A banner glorifying infamous loyalist killer Wesley Somerville also reappeared in in Moygashel, near Dungannon, County Tyrone, alongside another one paying tribute to the Mid Ulster UVF.
Similar banners glorifying Somerville and the UVF have been put up in the village in previous years.
Independent councillor Barry Monteith said there was “dismay and great concern among the nationalists and republican community in the area” that the banners had been put up.
“A week does not seem to go by that there are not more revelations about the activities of the man and his cohorts in the Glenanne Gang and it’s regrettable that anybody would seek to celebrate that,” he said.
The banner was removed by persons unknown on Friday.
DOWNING ST FLAGS
Meanwhile, a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) councillor has posted a mocked up image of a UVF flag raised outside 10 Downing Street.
In an apparent celebration of his party’s prospective role in government, Ian Stevenson posted the picture of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) flag flying next to the Prime Minister’s residence.
“Few changes made in Downing Street today,” the former mayor of Ballymoney wrote next to the image.
Mr Stevenson, who is a councillor for Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, later claimed he didn’t recognise the flag.
“I honestly don’t know why it’s a story. It wasn’t intentional. It didn’t mean anything,” he said.