The DUP is considering a legal challenge to flying a ‘Rainbow Flag’ on civic buildings across the borough on August 4 in support of Gay Pride.
A Sinn Fein motion to fly the flag scraped through Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council on Monday night despite strenuous opposition from unionist councillors.
The motion resulted in a shouting match in the council chamber with Sinn Fein attempting to censure independent councillor David Jones after a loud debate.
Cllr Jones and a number of DUP councillors challenged Sinn Fein’s support for the LGBTQ+ community describing their outrage at hate crimes as hypocritical following a 30 year IRA campaign.
Sinn Fein Deputy Lord Mayor Cllr Paul Duffy said he was ‘disappointed, albeit not surprised’ and accused Cllr Jones of hijacking their motion and shouting down the Mayor.
Welcoming the decision to fly the flag, Cllr Duffy said: “Huge steps forward towards full equality have been made in recent years but there is still more to be done and actions such as this, although small, are an important symbol of solidarity.”
He expressed concern at the rise in hate crimes in Council area.
And he added: “This should and must be condemned by all. It’s important that we show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and send a clear message that inequality and discrimination of any kind is simply not tolerable.”
After the meeting the DUP issued a statement accusing Sinn Fein of hypocrisy.
“The DUP outrightly condemns any act of hate or violence against any member of the community.
“The motion before the Council on Monday night was divisive as there was a significant element of hypocrisy given that Sinn Fein proposed a motion which focused heavily on hate crime, yet the IRA, which by Sinn Féin’s own admission has been inextricably linked to that party, committed some of the most heinous crimes during ‘The Troubles’ for which members of IRA have not been held responsible.
“The families of victims of IRA violence deserve the greatest respect and the ultimate show of remorse for crimes committed against these victims by the IRA would see Sinn Fein ask specifically that those members of the IRA who committed murder and other acts generated by hatred, come forward to face the courts. All other attempts at deflection under the so called banner of ‘equality’ by Sinn Fein will be highlighted by our DUP council grouping.
“The motion appears to have been submitted very late in the day and the implications of such a motion are far reaching. Due process hasn’t been followed, no call for an equality impact assessment as is custom and practise when displaying flags and emblems and we are going against our policies and procedures.
“We as a party fear that this result will open the floodgates for all groups to suggest flying all types of flags from civic buildings, we would argue very strongly that official local authority flagpoles should only be used to fly the nation’s flag or indeed the armed forces flag which incorporates the Union Flag.
“These are the reasons we objected in the strongest possible terms to any other flag being flown and are somewhat dismayed and astounded that only the DUP and Independent councillor David Jones voted against such a haphazard and unprofessional approach. We will on this occasion have to consider taking legal advice and utilising the call in process.”
Following the meeting Cllr Jones said: “I opposed the Notice of Motion. My reasons were quite clear. I have no issue or problem with the LGBTQ+ community. Where I have a major problem is such a motion being proposed by Sinn Fein while over a period of thirty years their military wing, PIRA, carried out the most heinous indiscriminate murders on people no matter their sex, religion, colour, age or sexual orientation and have to date offered no remorse or apology for their actions. I do not believe Sinn Fein should be seen as the guardians of minority groups, no matter who or what that group may be.
“During a fractious debate members of Sinn Fein attempted to shout me down. They went as far a proposing a Motion of Censure on me to stop me from speaking at the meeting but following a vote this Motion failed.
“At the close of the debate and despite a rejected amendment being proposed the Sinn Fein Notice of Motion was passed. I and the DUP voted against while the UUP did not vote.
“Once again I feel this shows the desperation of Sinn Fein to latch onto an issue they believe will show them to be the defender of a minority. No doubt they will say I am biased against the LGBTQ+ community. I totally repudiate this. I have worked with, socialised and have friends from the LGBTQ+ community. When I spoke to some of them before last nights meeting and I explained my reasons for not supporting the Sinn Fein Notice of Motion they were equally scathing of it saying they did not want to be used by a political party to bolster their image.”
Cllr Catherine Nelson proposed Cllr Jones be censored but this failed due to support from both UUP and DUP members.
Cllr Duffy said: “His disregard for the authority of the Mayor fell well short of the behaviour expected from members in the chamber.
“In dredging up the past he used it as an excuse to deny this gesture of solidarity to members of the LGBTQ+ community. I am delighted our motion passed despite his opposition. We will be the first council in the North to fly the rainbow flag and that is something to be proud of.
“I urge members of our local LGBTQ+ Community, and their families, to join me this coming Tuesday night for a celebratory event during Pride Week in Craigavon Civic Centre 7-9pm.”
Those who are interested in attending the event are asked to contact the Lord Mayor’s Office on 028 3752 9633 as they need to know numbers for catering purposes.