People in Ballyclare are being held to ransom by loyalist paramilitaries, according to a local councillor.
The claim was made after the controversial ‘Welcome to loyalist Ballyclare’ banner reappeared in the town at the weekend.
There was widespread public outrage when the banner was first suspended over the road near the bottom of Main Street last month - just days ahead of the May Fair.
Political representatives were inundated with calls from people wanting the “divisive” banner removed, and business and religious leaders in the area were also unhappy with the impact on the town and its reputation.
After one of the ties came loose and the banner was found hanging over the road it was removed, and some local representatives claimed that it had been taken down due to safety and insurance issues. However, it went back up on Friday, June 7.
One local councillor, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of reprisals, told the Times: “I’ve had umpteen phone calls about this and I know that some of the MLAs have also had complaints from people who aren’t happy about the banner going back up.
“I don’t know what can be done as the police will not grasp this nettle at all. They are just trying to pass the buck to Roads Service.”
The councillor claimed that loyalist paramilitaries from a local estate were responsible for erecting the banner.
“It’s completely unacceptable that a few hooligans can hold the whole town to ransom. The people in the town don’t want this banner - it only divides and damages the community.”
Another councillor said he too has been inundated with emails and phone calls from people wanting the banner taken down, but admitted it’s unlikely that anyone will take responsibility for its removal.
South Antrim MLA David Ford branded the erection of the banner “an intimidatory move” and said he would be meeting with concerned residents in a bid to have the issue resolved. And Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kinahan was due to raise the matter at a meeting of the Unionist Forum on Wednesday, June 12.
The PSNI and DRD Roads Service both confirmed that they won’t take steps to remove the banner unless there is a public safety issue.