Parkmount Arch sparks stand-off over flags

A FLAGS furore erupted on Saturday morning after the erection of the Orange arch at Parkmount.

Six flags were attached to the arch - the Union Flag, Ulster, Queen’s Jubilee, Drumcree, 36th Ulster Division and the Covenant.

But soon afterwards, a number of the loyalist flags were taken down and replaced by an Irish tricolour, which precipitated a battle of words and the police being called in to calm things down.

The erection of the arch started at 6.30am “to keep traffic disruption to a minimum”, according to a statement from the Parkmount Arch Committee.

But shortly afterwards, a local resident in the nationalist area climbed the arch and replaced some of the flags with a tricolour.

This led to the original flags being placed on the arch again, and the police closed the main road for 30 minutes while the PSNI kept the peace.

The committee statement pointed out that the Parkmount Arch tradition went back 60 years, and that it is “raised each year on the last Saturday in June, remaining in position during the month of July”.

“This year was no different and all work was completed at the arch within an hour,” it added and then recounted the sequence of the flags being removed, the tricolour being hoisted and the replacement of the original flags.

“Unfortunately this resulted in having to ask the PSNI to close the road for a second time and causing travel misery for the local community,” the statement went on.

With the area having gone almost 100 per cent nationalist over the years, local Sinn Fein councillor Paul Duffy said that the community was to be “praised for its restraint over the issue of the Parkmount Arch”.

He added, “There is no basis for having an Orange arch at Garvaghy Road. Given the location of this arch within a nationalist area, I very much doubt if anyone, including the Orange Order, was surprised when the Union Flag was replaced by a tricolour within minutes of the arch going up.

“The only rationale for putting a Loyal Orders’ symbol here has to be a desire to provoke the local community and raise tensions as we approach the marching season. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the local community for displaying greater moral fibre than those responsible for raising an arch in a nationalist area.”

Unionist politicians, though, see things differently. UUP Councillor Colin McCusker said, “It is somewhat ironic that in the same week that Martin McGuinness shook the hand of Her Majesty the Queen, that we experienced renewed efforts by republicans in Portadown to eradicate any semblance of the loyalist community in the Parkmount area. It makes me view the Deputy First Minister’s gesture with even more cynicism.”

And in a joint statement, David Simpson MP and Sydney Anderson (both DUP), said, “This was a blatantly sectarian attack not only on Parkmount Arch, but also on the small Protestant-Unionist community in an area of Portadown that has been subjected to repeated intimidation by republicans over the years. It is clear that there are still those who cannot deal with difference or diversity, cannot abide any cultural or community expression that is different to their ideology and who cannot bear to have people living near them who think differently to them.”

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