Sinn Fein MP waving flags outside Antrim City Catholic Church

A Sinn Fein MP struck after paramilitary and Parachute Regiment flags were erected outside a Catholic church and school in the city of Antrim.

Declan Kearney said last week that the city’s Chapel Corner area was “festooned” with banners and a variety of flags, including some “associated with the UDA”, the Parachute Regiment and local Unionist flute bands.

He said two such flags were removed on Saturday morning ahead of a funeral at St Comgall’s Chapel, ‘but officials refused to remove the flute flags’ which he called ‘unacceptable and indefensible’ .

A DUP MP, however, accused Mr Kearney of “stirring up tensions” with his comments.

Mr Keaney said: “Last week the corner of the chapel was adorned with a variety of flags and streamers. Flags associated with the UDA, the British Parachute Regiment (sic) and groups of Local unionists flute were erected in the immediate vicinity of St Comgall’s chapel, school and car park.

“It was both provocative, insensitive and clearly an attempt to intimidate.

“I and other Sinn Fein colleagues have spoken privately to Unionist political representatives and the PSNI to try to get these flags removed from this sensitive location.

“Chapel Corner and the surrounding residential areas of Antrim City are shared and neutral community spaces. It is absolutely intolerable that they continue to be abused in this way. However, it is particularly outrageous that the chapel of Saint-Comgall is targeted by the offensive erection of paramilitary, parachute and band flags.”

Mr Kearney added that no place of worship should be subjected to such “sectarian disrespect and intimidation”.

“Those responsible for what happened here should be ashamed of themselves. It’s high time this kind of behavior stopped,” he said.

“All residential, retail, leisure and co-working areas must be respected and kept free from sectarian threats or harassment.

“All political and civic leaders and public agencies have a clear obligation to promote and protect good community relations and uphold the law.”

In response, Trevor Clarke, DUP MLA for South Antrim, said: “There is no place for paramilitary flags anywhere in Northern Ireland; however, flute band flags belong to bands that march in the region every five years on July 12.

“This appears to be an attempt to stoke tensions, which did not exist, by Mr Kearney.”

Antrim DUP adviser Paul Dunlop said that as a musician himself he saw nothing offensive in the flute band flags.

The PSNI said the flags in question were reported to police last Wednesday.

Deputy Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said: ‘Under the current legislative framework, the removal of flags is not the responsibility of the police service nor do we have specific authority to do so and we will not act only to remove flags where there are assessed risks to public safety due to their erection.

“We are aware that this is a sensitive issue for the whole community and that there is no easy solution. There is no community or political consensus on the issue of flags and ultimately it requires a political, not a police, resolution.

“Our experience shows that the most effective solution to this problem is negotiation, mediation and engagement between local communities working with agencies, including local police.

“We will continue to work with local communities and our partners to find long-term solutions to flag waving issues.”

Martha J. Finley