Dates agreed on flags to go up and come down

John Stevenson.

John Stevenson.

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A flag agreement has been launched at a public meeting in Portadown.

The draft flag protocol includes agreed dates within which flags should be erected and taken down in the town.

It also looks at ways of dealing with contentious areas.

Thursday’s meeting is the latest stage in an initiative within the PUL (Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist) community, which began with the removal of 150 union and loyalist flags a month ago.

It was attended by various unionist parties, along with representatives of ABC Council, the NI Housing Executive, PSNI, loyal orders, community and cultural groups.

The people from the various groupings and areas who put the flags up and who have agreed the protocol will also be there.

The initiative has been led by community development group Regenerate. Committee member John Stevenson said the intention is to finalise the document after tomorrow’s meeting, but that it will be reviewed annually.

He explained, “The agreement means the door is open for people who feel they have a grievance about flags to take it through a formal process. It gives them the option to go to Regenerate to air the problem and try to have it dealt with.

“For instance, in an area where there has been unhappiness with flags going up at the beginning of June, they may go up at the end of June instead.”

Mr Stevenson said part of the protocol includes a plan for more community poles, such as the one in Portadown town centre, which would be a way of “addressing some of the contention” around flags.

However, the poles are unlikely to be erected this year.

Mr Stevenson said the Regenerate project has received positive feedback from across the town, with interest and enquiries from groups as far away as East Antrim, south Londonderry and Kilkeel who want to know how it was implemented.

Some of these groups will be attending tonight’s meeting.

He added, “I know there has also been interest from the Stormont government. We are more than happy for whatever we agree to be used as a template by other groups who want to adapt it for their own areas.”

Last month’s decision to remove the flags followed a meeting of community groups and individuals, many of whom had never been brought together before.

It was described then by the organisers as a “landmark meeting”.

Most of the flags removed were torn and in poor condition, having been erected last summer, and the aim of the removal was to ensure that in the future they are treated with pride and respect.

Areas from which flags were removed stretched from Corcrain, Edgarstown and Brownstown to Edenderry, Killicomaine and Kernan.

According to Regenerate, the year prior to the agreement had been spent “working beneath the radar and listening to community needs”.