UNIONISTS have used their majority at Craigavon Council to pass a motion to have its flags policy reviewed with immediate effect.
The motion was proposed by the DUP and while Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance opposed the proposal, the backing of the Ulster Unionists was enough to trigger a review.
All 13 unionist councillors present voted in favour of “reviewing with immediate effect the current flag policy with a view to extending the number of days currently permitted to fly the Union flag on civic buildings and in Lurgan and Portadown town centres”.
In proposing the motion, DUP Assembly member Stephen Moutray condemned the recent violence across Northern Ireland.
He commented, “The way forward is democracy and this is the theatre to carry out that process. We don’t expect a snap decision but it’s important to start the process. I would prefer to see the Union flag flown with respect on a flagpole than tied to a lamppost.”
DUP Alderman Sydney Anderson called on unionists to “roll back the clock” and undo the decision that was taken at council a decade ago, following legal advice, to fly the Union flag only on designated days.
He said, “It’s a very sad day when this unionist-controlled council in Craigavon, in Northern Ireland, in the United Kingdom, is having to ask for permission to fly the flag of this country.”
Mr Anderson was a UUP councillor when the vote was taken at Craigavon Council to only fly the Union flag on designated days.
He added, “We have to roll the clocks back. I was there (pointing to UUP section of the chamber) when the debacle happened. I was being asked to vote against my flag. I said at that time I would not do it.
“SDLP put forward the proposal. It would never have gone through if my unionists colleagues had put their hands up instead of abstaining.
“Something has been festering ever since. We’ve watched Sinn Fein and the SDLP attack everything British at this council. They’ve now found new friends in the Alliance party.”
SDLP Councillor Joe Nelson said the legal advice received by council was unequivocal and he would not be supporting the motion. He said the compromise of designated days for flying the flag is one his party was prepared to accept, adding the policy has served the community well for the past 10 years.
He commented, “Flags are used to stake out territory and tell people they aren’t welcome. By flying flags in town centres and at the civic centre we are sending out the same message.
“Nationalism and unionism are on an equal footing in this borough and we must continue to reflect this equality.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Jonny McGibbon said the flags issue showed that “equality is still a problem for the DUP”.
Mr McGibbon said, “Councillor Anderson said ‘We have to roll back the clocks’. What type of message is that to send out to the community?
“This isn’t Belfast. This is Craigavon. The flag flying policy has been in place for 10 years.”
He said the DUP were calling for a review while attempting to dictate the outcome in proposing a “review with a view of extending” the number of days the Union flag is flown.
He continued by asking the question as to whether the DUP motion was prompted by the recent unrest which included “death threats, attempted murder and attacks on police”.
Alliance Councillor Conrad Dixon said, “I won’t be supporting this motion. If council pass this motion it is a message that violence and intimidation works.”
Sinn Fein’s Mark O’Dowd reprimanded Alderman Anderson for implying that only those who consider themselves British are decent law-abiding people.
He accused the DUP of taking their lead from loyalist paramilitaries: “In proposing this review they are looking over their shoulders at loyalist paramilitaries instead of standing up to them,” he said.
He added, “Most people in this chamber want to move forward. The DUP want to go backwards.”
Mr O’Dowd also questioned the lack of representation of the Irish identity at Craigavon Borough Council given the strong representation of the unionist identity.
Ulster Unionist Councillor Kenneth Twyble said, “The decision 10 years ago was taken on very clear legal advice. It is a decision that has stood well.
“This notice of motion is to review the current policy. The principle of regularly reviewing policies is a good one.”
Fellow UUP Councillor Ronnie Harkness said the flying of the flag at Belfast City Hall didn’t stop anyone from SDLP, Sinn Fein or Alliance accepting the position as mayor.
When put to a vote the 13 unionist councillors voted in favour of the motion while 11 councillors from Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance voted against.