The annual ‘Relief of Derry’ march by the loyalist Apprentice Boys’ organisation saw flags once again used to intimidate and insult the overwhelmingly nationalist population of the city.
Paramilitary UDA and UFF banners were erected in the Waterside area ahead of Saturday’s march, with streamers bearing the names and insignia of sectarian loyalist murder gangs hung across the street in view of the homes of nationalists.
Sinn Féin Councillor Christopher Jackson said the move was an attempt to intimidate, and he called for leadership from unionists.
“These flags should not be erected to mark out territory or intimidate people, particularly on what is the main route into the city centre used by thousands of people every day,” he said.
“It’s time for community and political leaders to step up, show leadership and have these flags removed now.”
More paramilitary flags and flags of the infamous British Army Para regiment, responsible for the Bloody Sunday massacre in the city, were also up for sale in a stall set up in a mixed area of the city. Participants in the loyalist events were subsequently seen to be walking around draped in the flags.
Members of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights’ demonstrators in Derry in 1972, killing 14 people. Those who carried out the killings are set to be protected by amnesty legislation currently passing through Westminster.
Mickey McKinney, whose brother William was among those shot dead on Bloody Sunday, said he was deeply upset.
“It’s offensive, not just to myself but the other families and the wounded,” he said.
Despite this, it was a nationalist bonfire in the city which received the bulk of the attention by the mainstream media.
The bonfire appeared as a parody of the loyalist Eleventh Night bonfires, when hundreds of pyres are lit by unionists for the purpose of burning nationalist symbols. An extraordinary stash of unionists symbols, include a picture of Queen Elizabeth blowing chewing gum, were placed on the anti-internment bonfire before it was lit.
Local councillor Gary Donnelly hit out at what he said was “nauseating condemnation by the great and the good, who, when you scratch the surface are not really that great or good.”
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly branded the scene as ‘disgraceful’, while the Derry and Strabane mayor Sandra Duffy described the torching of unionist symbols as “totally wrong”.
“The burning of flags, wreaths and posters which include politicians and other political figures is deeply offensive and is a hate crime,” Mr Kelly added.