Sinn Féin has said unionist flags and banners are being used by loyalist paramilitaries to mark out territory as homes in east Belfast came under attack ahead of the anti-Catholic marching season.
Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir accused the authorities of “enabling behaviour which divides people and intimidates communities” by failing to deal with the issue of flags and banners.
Commenting after a number of loyalist flags and emblems were erected in the Lisburn Road and other areas of Belfast, Mr Ó Muilleoir said they were “an indictment of the authorities, most notably the PSNI and Department of Infrastructure”.
“While the police fail to act, the reality is that they know this marking out of territory has the support of paramilitary groups in south and east Belfast,” he said. “Indeed, the main reason the Department of Infrastructure gives for not removing flags and banners from its property is fear of paramilitaries.”
One flag in east Belfast was placed conspicuously outside a Catholic primary school in a clear attempt at intimidation. The solitary flag was erected outside St Joseph’s Primary School on Holland Drive in Ballyhackamore (pictured).
A banner featuring sectarian loyalist killer Wesley Somerville has also been hung from a lamppost in Moygashel outside Dungannon, County Tyrone. The banner includes an image of Somerville, the UVF crest and an image of a UVF flag.
A UVF paramilitary flag has also been placed outside a Catholic church and school in Larne, County Antrim. It was placed alongside a British Union Jack on a lamppost outside St MacNissi’s Church, which is beside St MacNissi’s Primary School.
SDLP labelled the flags “provocative, divisive and intimidating”. Alliance said they were “clearly an attempt to mark out territory” and that flags were appearing in locations “which should be remaining shared and open spaces”.
Banners expressing support for soldiers accused of state killings have been proliferating across the Six Counties in recent weeks. They have appeared amid speculation that accused soldiers could implicate their superiors in state killings.
Most express support for ‘Soldier F’, who is to appear in a Derry court on charges related to the Bloody Sunday massacre.
Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said they had “nothing to do with the cause of justice”.
“The community is in no doubt that certain loyalist paramilitaries have given their blessing and put their muscle behind the display of similar banners across the North,” he said.
“These paramilitaries are already engaged in the intimidation of mixed communities across South Belfast, not least in ‘shared’ housing developments in Belfast.
“The PSNI is enabling these paramilitaries by allowing these banners to be erected.”
Sinn Féin in Belfast has called for the city council to take an injunction against the Six County Department for Infrastructure to force the department to remove the flags there. The DUP branded the move a “stunt intent on increasing tensions rather than reducing them”.
Meanwhile, there are fears of possible clashes in the summer ahead following interface disturbances in east Belfast in the past week. There have also been serious attacks by UVF paramilitaries against members of their own communities as they attempt to strengthen their control in the area.
Sinn Féin East Belfast Representative Mairead Ó Donnell has expressed concern and called for action from the PSNI and an “interface strategy”.
“This is the second night in a row where residents in Clandeboye in the Short Strand have experienced attacks on their homes,” she said.
“Last night Bryson Street residents experienced similar incidents and a number of cars were damaged as a result.
“All and any public disorder along the interface is wrong and unjustifiable regardless of the source.
“I would appeal to parents to speak with their children and ensure that they are not hanging around parts of the community where they could be caught up in any of these incidents.”