Battles over flags on St Patrick’s Day

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At the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Newry, the national flag was flown despite attempts by Newry, Mourne and Down Council to ban it.

The local branch of Saoradh and Kilkeel Republican flute band, Banna Fliuit Naoimh Phadraig both defied the ban. The band was led by a colour party which flew the tricolour flag along with the flags of the Four Provinces of Ireland.

Saoradh described the St Patrick’s Day flag ban as an attempted suppression of the Irish national identity.

Speaking after the parade Saoradh’s Newry spokesperson Stephen Murney said “We made it clear over the past few weeks that we would be defying this ban and that’s exactly what we have done today.

“The Crown Forces were forced to helplessly look on as we marched through our streets in the centre of Newry.

“The crowds that lined streets applauded and cheered as we passed. While many young people left the footpaths to join us with tricolours in hand.

“This Irish flag ban was a clear attempt to suppress any expression of Irish culture and heritage in the St Patrick’s Day Parade. Today we ensured that did not happen.”

He called on the council to reverse their “ridiculous” St Patrick’s Day ban and allow people to be “free to express their Irish national identity”.

Meanwhile, loyalists chose St Patrick’s Day to erect a paramilitary flag to provoke Catholics in Coleraine, County Derry The UVF flag was put up in the Pates Lane area of Coleraine on March 17, while attempts were also made by loyalists to take down an Irish tricolour flag erected for the day.

Local SDLP representative John Dallat said the area needs to be left in peace.

“To choose St Patrick’s Day to erect loyalist paramilitary flags is an act of extreme provocation and not a good omen for the future peace of this neighbourhood which saw enough hate crimes in the past,” he said. “I appeal to everyone not to react to this kind of sectarianism but to focus on what we have in common.”

Meanwhile, loyalist civil servants were accused of provocatively hoisting British Union Jack flags on civic buildings across the North for St Patricks’ Day. One flew over Newry Court House and another over Crown Buildings on Asylum Road in Derry.

“It is incredible that the state would pay someone overtime to come in and put up this flag up over an empty building, and then take it down again eight hours later,” said one parade participant who observed the incident.

In contrast, Sinn Fein activists in Rostrevor took down Irish flags from a Protestant church.

“It is Sinn Fein’s position is that no flag or emblem should be erected to mark out territory, to harass, or intimidate anyone and it was clearly provocative to erect flags close to a place of worship,” said assembly member Sinead Ennis, who praised the actions.

“There have been good relations between all the people who live in Rostrevor and its hinterland. The actions of one individual responsible for erecting the flags certainly do not reflect the will of the people of Rostrevor and will be roundly condemned.”

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