People in Ballyclare have hit out at loyalists for erecting a banner at the bottom of the town saying ‘WELCOME TO LOYALIST BALLYCLARE’.
The banner, suspended over the road near the entrance to the town’s Main Street, was put up on Friday, May 17.
The banner, which incorporates a number of flags, went up ahead of the start of the town’s annual May Fair, and just days before this year’s Community Relations Week.
One local man, who didn’t want to be named, blamed loyalist paramilitaries for erecting the banner.
“This is just another example of the lunatic fringe holding a population of about 12,000 to ransom. If the police, the DRD or the council tried to remove the banner they’d just wreck the place the way they did in the Grange estate two years ago when they burnt out cars and attacked the police. It does nothing for the image of the town, but I’ve spoken to the police and the council and it seems they are powerless to do anything about it,” he said.
It’s understood local traders are also unhappy about the banner.
A spokesman for the Chamber of Trade said: “It’s not the welcome we would expect people to receive, especially on the opening day of the fair.”
Political representatives for the area say they have been “inundated” with calls from people who want the banner removed.
Alliance councillor Pat McCudden said he was concerned about the possible effect on local businesses, given that many are already struggling due to reduced footfall in the town centre. And several of his colleagues from the DUP and UUP said they have received countless complaints from members of the public, all calling for the banner to be taken down.
South Antrim MLA David Ford described the banner as “completely unacceptable” and branded it “divisive”.
“This is an intimidatory move, designed by those behind it to divide the local community and stir up old tensions. However this aim has backfired. I know that many local people are incensed that this banner has been erected. Those who put it up should take it down immediately,” he commented.
“Town centres cannot continue to be claimed by one side or the other, rather we should be working together to create shared space open to everyone in the community.
“I hope Ballyclare enjoys another successful May Fair and visitors and residents are not deterred from enjoying all the event has to offer,” the Alliance Party leader added.