‘Leadership shown’ in removal of paramilitary flags

Published on Wednesday 27 June 2012 14:44

THE removal of loyalist paramilitary flags from immediately outside St Nicholas Catholic Church and Primary School in Carrick has received cross-community approval.

The UVF and UDA flags were taken down earlier this week following successful “community dialogue”.

East Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan, who met with senior PSNI officers in the town on Friday, said he wished to publicly acknowledge what has been done.

“It is a very good step forward. It’s a gesture, as far as the parishioners who use the school and church it’s only to be commended,” said Mr McMullan,

“No place of worship should have flags outside their building no matter what the occasion.

“I do not have an issue with flags in Carrickfergus, I respect that. It has to be reciprocated, the minority population’s places of worship and education should be respected as well.”

DUP Councillor David Hilditch MLA, who has been involved in discussions on this issue and bonfires in recent weeks, also voiced his approval for the initiative.

Mr Hilditch told the TIMES: “I would acknowledge the effort made by those working in the community to resolve this issue. Hopefully we can move on for future years and have a better understanding of the situation.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs stated: “The vast majority of the local population in East Antrim have concerns about the flying of paramilitary flags.

“They are not acceptable anywhere – including near schools and churches of whatever denomination. My office has received a number of complaints in recent days from concerned local residents.

“We should recognise that there has been steady progress in re-imaging paramilitary murals and improving community relation by reducing the display of paramilitary flags.

“It is not realistic to expect police officers or Roads Service workers to be climbing up dozens of lamp-posts around the town removing some flags.

“The solution is that those who put them up should see sense and take them down again. I welcome some positive moves in that direction in recent days.”

Chief Inspector Stephen Reid, Area Commander for Newtownabbey Carrickfergus, and his management team have met with a number of political representatives to discuss the issue of flags in the Newtownabbey, Ballyclare and Carrickfergus areas.

At these meetings, police briefed interested parties that since 8 June 2012 officers have been engaged in discussions with community representatives and political groups’ councils in relation to this very sensitive and emotive issue.

Chief Inspector Reid outlined his strategy as “one of dialogue and discussion across a broad front, engaging with key stakeholders such as community reps, political groups’ councils, DRD and other key stakeholders. It is better to enter into dialogue to achieve results that will thereby protect all of the community. It should not be understated the time and effort that many community minded people have put into addressing this issue”.

He continued: “Leadership has been shown by a number of people, especially community reps in the area, which has resulted in progress being made through discussion. This is to be welcomed.

“I would ask everyone with influence to continue to use their leadership and dialogue to progress issues of community concern in a positive way. By engaging and working in partnership so much more can be achieved.”

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