‘Widespread concern’ as flags appear across region

UDA flag.
UDA flag.

Concerns have been raised across Newtownabbey after paramilitary flags were erected at a number of locations in recent weeks.

The flags broadly represent the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commando (RHC).

UVF flag.

UVF flag.

A number of UDA and UFF flags have been positioned on lampposts in Ballyclare, including at the entrances to housing developments on the Ballynure Road and Doagh Road.

Flags representing the UDA, UFF and UVF are on display in Doagh, while RHC flags have been erected on the Church Road at the entrance to Rathcoole.

In Glengormley, UDA and UFF flags have been placed near Sandyknowes Roundabout. A Glengormley DEA representative says he has been contacted by “dozens” of concerned residents since the flags started to appear.

Alliance representative, Cllr John Blair said: “There is no place for paramilitary emblems in Glengormley. There has been a lot of public concern regarding the proliferation of paramilitary flags, with dozens of residents from the Ballyhenry Road and Sandyknowes areas contacting me about the issue.

“People don’t want paramilitary emblems in the area. I would strongly urge the department and police to work with public representatives in an attempt to get these flags down.”

Commenting on the development, Sinn Fein representative, Cllr Michael Goodman said those behind the erection of the flags are attempting to intimidate local residents.

He said: “A lot of people are worried after these flags representing illegal organisations have appeared in the region.

“Glengormley is significantly mixed and the majority of people are happy to live side-by-side with people from other traditions. With the flags going up, those responsible are trying to intimidate people across the board.”

He added: “Everyone understands how important national flags and emblems are to communities here. There is a difference though between putting up these flags that represent proscribed organisations and Union Flags.

“I would call on representatives from mainstream unionist parties not to sit back on their hands, but to stand together on this and call on the paramilitary flags to be removed.”

Speaking on the issue, a spokesperson for Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council explained: “A small number of residents have recently brought the presence of flags in the borough to our attention. The flags were not reported as being on council property.

“In the absence of an agreed protocol at a Northern Ireland level, any request to remove flags should be directed to the relevant property owner on which the flags are erected in the first instance. In certain circumstances the PSNI may become involved in the removal of flags where there are substantial risks to public safety.”

Detailing the police protocol, a PSNI spokesperson stated: “The removal of flags is not the responsibility of the PSNI. We will not deploy officers to remove flags in response to a complaint from the community. The PSNI will only act to remove flags if there are substantial risks to public safety. Policing with the community entails working with local people to respond to any issue where there is a concern for public safety or where a criminal offence has occurred.

“In short, partnership working involving council, DRD, police, key stakeholders and local communities is the only way to resolve sensitive issues.”