Belfast City Council supports legal action forcing removal of flags

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By Rebecca Black

Belfast City Council has voted to attempt to legally force the removal of paramilitary flags and banners.

Tensions have been raised across the capital city following the erection of banners in support of a former soldier who is set to be prosecuted over a number of deaths in Londonderry in 1972.

Soldier F will stand trial for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney, two of the 13 people killed in the January 30 shootings which have become known as Bloody Sunday.

A number of paramilitary flags have also been erected in Belfast, including loyalist flags in the mixed housing Cantell Close area in the south of the city.

Sinn Fein councillor Ciaran Beattie proposed a motion that the council should take legal action against the Department for Infrastructure to force it to remove all paramilitary flags and banners erected without permission.

He spoke of "alarm at the increasing number of offensive displays of banners and paramilitary flags across Belfast", adding that they are being "used to divide, offend and cause hurt to victims".

DUP councillor George Dorrian voiced his disappointment at the passing of the motion.

"We are disappointed that this motion has passed this evening," he told PA.

"The best way forward is for engagement and dialogue, unfortunately some have chose to dismiss the protocols that many have worked to achieve.

"We will continue to work with all parties to resolve issues around culture and celebrations. But taking legal action is certainly not a sensible forward."

The motion was passed by 34 votes to 18 with unionists voting against. There were three abstentions.

Reacting outside the meeting, Mr Beattie said it was a positive move for the city.

"I think it's an important day for the city, it's an advancement for the city, that Belfast City Council is standing up for the citizens of Belfast, no longer should Belfast City Council stand aside and allow those who want to erect banners or flags that are divisive and cause harm or hurt in this city, so it is important that we take legal action against the Department of Infrastructure, and hopefully the outcome of that will be successful," he said.

The vote was taken at a special meeting of the council on Monday evening.

Three amendments to the motion, tabled by People Before Profit, the Alliance Party and the SDLP, were voted down.

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said his party wanted to see the effort extended to all flags and banners erected.

"What we were trying to do was change the Sinn Fein motion to reference all flags and all banners because we feel that the use of flags and banners to mark space is wrong, and that includes sadly the use of national symbols," he said.

"People are free to have their identity and aspirations around these things but I don't think people are free to erect flags on street furniture.

"We would have obviously preferred our amendment to be successful but we are content with what was proposed by Sinn Fein in this case because we think it makes progress on what is a difficult and delicate issue."

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