Swann blasts ‘megaphone diplomacy’ approach to Ballymena flags issue

Robin Swann
Robin Swann

Nationalist and Republican politicians have been accused of indulging in ‘megaphone diplomacy’ over the flying of the Union Flag in a Ballymena housing area.

North Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann was responding to statements made this week by nationalist representatives about issue.

Cllr Donna Anderson. (Editorial Image)

Cllr Donna Anderson. (Editorial Image)

He said: “Increasing hype and tension is not the way to open dialogue about flags, yet nationalist and republican representatives want to use megaphone diplomacy to address a sensetive issue at the most sensitive time of the year.

“Northern Ireland lacks any clear rules on the flying of flags from street lights, it is not the responsibility of the police nor is it the responsibility of the council. Responsibility rests with the Executive parties who have yet to come to an agreement on the way forward.

“Our priority locally must be to ensure that those who seek to create greater tension around the issue by their unguarded comments and irresponsible requests to statutory agencies do not promote greater fears and uncertainty.

Calls for the removal of Unions flags from the estate have already been rejected by a UKIP councillor from the town but a Sinn Fein MLA has called on police to take them down.

Declan O'Loan. INBT 22-130JC

Declan O'Loan. INBT 22-130JC

The issue of the flags in the former army housing accommodation in the middle of the Demesne area had originally been raised by SDLP councillor, Declan O’Loan who said their appearance had been the cause for anxiety. His calls for removal of the flags was later echoed by Sinn Fein MLA, Daithi McKay.

However, Mid and East Antrim Councillor, Donna Anderson has issued a statement totally opposing these calls.

She said: “I disagree with Cllr O’Loan’s statement whereby he said that no flags had ever been flown in the area. Yes, it is a mixed community but flags have been flown for many years t1here without any issue.”

“Perhaps Cllr O’Loan should be more concerned with republican flags on the Cushendall Road?” she contended.

Daithi McKay. (Editorial Image).

Daithi McKay. (Editorial Image).

Cllr. Anderson further stated: “The Union flag does not promote terrorism, unlike the G.A.A. flags. The Union Flag is our national emblem, unlike the foreign tricolour which is flown at the top of the town all year round.”

SDLP representative Declan O’Loan had called on those who have erected Union flags to remove them.

The estate of forty plus houses, formerly homes for military families, is now managed as social housing by Fold Housing Association.

Mr. O’Loan said: “This is a very serious situation. These flags were put up a couple of nights ago. They have caused great anxiety and fear in the neighbourhood. This housing development is on the edge of the town centre, very close to long established social housing which has always been very neutral in character, and is one of the areas in greatest demand.

“It is very much a mixed community and flags have never been flown here. I have been in touch with Council officers and through them PSNI. I now ask elected representatives of all parties to support the call to have these flags removed. I am willing to meet those who put these flags up to explain why they create a problem that perhaps they do not fully understand.”

North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay said: “A number of flags erected close to the St Patrick’s Barracks housing development should be removed by the PSNI. The residential area does not usually have any flags erected in it and this action has caused concern to local residents.”

He added: “As we come into the summer period it is important all that can be done is done to ensure the summer passes off peacefully. In this case a number of flags have been put up in a quiet part of the town. Local residents do not want to see flags erected on flagpoles here.

“People have lived side by side here for many years without any issues. I think it would be appropriate if the flags were removed by the PSNI lest it cause any further anxiety. In other cases, in areas where flags were not wanted, the police have treated the erecting of flags on lampposts as a breach of the peace.”