Loyalists have begun hoisting flags and banners and painting kerbstones in locations across the North in advance of the summer sectarian parades by the Protestant marching organisations.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly condemned the erection of flags on the Ballysillan Road of north Belfast, including flags placed close to schools and a leisure centre.
“Once again loyalists have erected flags on a main road in north Belfast, some of them close to schools and a leisure centre in a clear attempt at marking out territory,” he said.
“Those involved in the erection of these flags have no concern for the people who live, work, play or who are being educated in these shared spaces.
“It’s well past time that political unionism showed some leadership on this issue and worked to bring this annual coat trailing exercise to an end.”
He said that loyalists seem intent on raising community tensions with the erection of flags in mixed areas. There is “a clear attempt to intimidate and raise community tension,” he said. “Those carrying out such actions are interested only in exacerbating difference and fomenting discord.”
Sinn Fein’s Mairtin O Muilleoir said flags and banners were being used by loyalists to intimidate and harass Catholic and nationalists residents in his south Belfast constituency.
He was speaking following the erection of loyalist banners in shared housing schemes in South Belfast and the hoisting of UVF paramilitary flags in Ravenhill Avenue. Some of the inflammatory banners depict IRA attacks in which civilians died.
Last year four Catholic families in Cantrell Close were forced to leave their homes due to sectarian threats following the flags controversy. It has also been revealed that loyalists plan to erect flags on the nearby Ormeau Road for three months.
Mr O Muilleoir said their actions were “against the wishes of the vast majority of local people”.
“It’s no coincidence that loyalists are targeting the shared housing schemes,” he said.
“Shared housing and shared communities are a threat to the sectarian gangs who wish to divide our community. Everyone needs to stand with those at the receiving end of this intimidation.”
Sone loyalists have spoken of “flag protocols” in a campaign apparently geared to stymie attempts to being about their removal. Mr O Muilleoir called on the PSNI police to “do more”.
“The political parties enabling the erection of flags to mark out territory and to intimidate and harass ordinary families need to speak out. The Green Party, in particular, needs to explain how this fits into the protocol they have endorsed with loyalist groups.”
Unionist flags have also appeared and kerb stones painted on one of the main arterial roads into Derry, while posters threatening council workers have been erected by loyalists in locations in east Derry and Tyrone. They state: “Continued cultural oppression can only lead to aggression”, and are understood to be directed against Mid-Ulster Council after it proposed plans to licence bonfires.
The PSNI has said the threatening posters are not illegal.