A new row has erupted over Irish tricolour flags being flown near the site of a planned shared housing development.
The DUP have claimed that more flags have gone up recently on the Mill Road, but Sinn Fein are insisting that no additional flags have been erected since the summer.
Representatives from a number of parties have voiced their concerns.
North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds condemned the erection of the flags, saying: “As the development neared completion and houses were being allocated, republicans have mounted a campaign of sectarian graffiti and the erection of Irish tricolours in an attempt to intimidate and to discourage families from the unionist community from moving in.
“Whilst we have heard words of condemnation, I would urge nationalist and republican political representatives to use their influence to have these flags removed without delay. Action is needed, not just words. The vision of a shared community in this new development must not be destroyed by those who would not tolerate a Protestant about the place.
“The Northern Ireland Housing Executive must take immediate action to address this sectarian crusade. The housing need in unionist communities was used to justify this development and serious consideration must now be given to a new housing scheme which would meet that need,” he said.
DUP councillor Phillip Brett condemned what he described as “the latest incident”.
“This is now the fourth or fifth different occasion that incidents like this have taken place. I think it has moved beyond the stage where it could ever be a shared development. I am meeting with the Housing Executive to discuss the issue. I think they will need to look at another large development which meets the needs of the unionist community,” he said.
Sinn Fein councillor Michael Goodman condemned the use of flags being used in an intimidatory manner, but has rejected the claim that new flags have been erected in the area.
“I totally condemn the use of flags being used to intimidate people. The people who put them up should take them down. The way they are being kept up to intimidate potential residents of Felden should be condemned. The flags on the Mill Road have been up since the summer, and no new flags have been put up. The flags that have remained up are there totally against the wishes of the people in the local community. Politicians from all sides need to give the shared housing plan their support in order for it to work,” he said.
Deputy Mayor for Antrim and Newtownabbey, Cllr John Blair said: “There are many good and decent people living in the area who don’t want this behaviour near their front doors. They don’t want it as a mechanism used by others to mark out territory.”
Cllr Blair has also called on political leaders to work together to find a solution: “Politicians regularly churn out statements and comments on these difficult and divisive issues. It is imperative that all political leaders use the current talks process to try and resolve these issues and find a way forward,” he added.
UUP councillor John Scott condemned the erection of the flags, branding it “a disgrace.”
He said: “People are trying to move on and don’t want these type of incidents. I know that there are people from the unionist community who would have liked to have moved to the development at Felden, but after the incidents they wouldn’t feel comfortable now. The people of the area don’t want the flags going up, labelling them to be from one side or the other. Those who are erecting the flags need to realise what it is doing. Do they want their children growing up in a divided society? The flags need to come down so we can all move forward.”
Alliance councillor Billy Webb said: “I condemn those who have erected these flags as they are clearly trying to intimidate prospective tenants and they don’t represent the local community who, together with their community representatives and me, have been extremely proactive in encouraging the Felden site to be a shared housing site.
“I have attended meetings with them and staff from the Clanmill Housing Association, prior to the development being started and during construction, to discuss ways of moving this shared concept forward.
“Those who put up these flags have demonstrated that they have no respect for the flag, by using it in this intimidatory way, and they certainly do not represent the views of the local community or elected representatives; they are no different to those who erected loyalist paramilitary flags in Carryduff.”
There has been a number of incidents at the Felden site on the Mill Road in recent times including sectarian graffiti being daubed on the walls at the entrance to the new development and issues over the erection of the tricolours.
All of the homes in the proposed shared housing development are due to be completed in the spring of 2016.