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13 July 2006 Edition

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Equality victory

BY LAURA FRIEL

The Equality Commission has ruled against flying the Union flag on civic buildings every day of the year. The ruling followed a complaint to the Equality Commission by Lisburn Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Butler.

In a landmark decision the Commission rejected Lisburn City's insistence that the British flag should be flown 365 days a year and ordered the unionist controlled council to restrict the flying of the Union flag to 17 designated days per year.

The ruling also ordered the council to "confine the display of the Union flag to its civic headquarters" instead of flying Union flags on civic buildings throughout the city. The Commission criticised the council for failing to honour its equality commitments and agreements with the Commission on the issue of flags.

Welcoming the decision, Cllr. Butler described Lisburn as "the sectarian capital of the North" and said once again the unionist-controlled city council had been found guilty of discrimination.

Sinn Féin vindicated

"The decision by the Equality Commission vindicates the position of Sinn Féin and places in the public dock the manner in which the DUP in particular have approached civic matters in this borough," said Butler.

"Lisburn Council need to act immediately and remove the Union Jack from council buildings. If they do not Sinn Féin will not hesitate in taking further action. The days of nationalists accepting unionist domination are over. The DUP would do well to wake up to this reality," said Butler.

The Equality Commission's ruling has implications for other unionist dominated councils that insist on flying the union flag outside agreed terms of specified buildings and designated days.

"Belfast, Castlereagh, Ballymena and others will have to change their flag flying policies and if they don't Sinn Féin will take further action with the Equality Commission to force these councils to comply with the legislation," said Butler.

Despite the ruling the DUP have vowed to keep the Union flag flying all year round. Lisburn DUP councillor Paul Porter dismissed the Equality Commission's finding.

"Lisburn City Council has acted properly in relation to the flag flying policy. The DUP received a mandate from the people of Lisburn on this issue and they want to see the flag of this country on a daily basis and we will carry out that wish," said the DUP councillor.

UVF flags

The mass display of sectarian flags that accompanies the Orange marching season sparked further controversy in Coleraine and Derry after the PSNI refused to declare the flying of unionist paramilitary flags to be illegal.

Local residents complained after dozens of UVF flags appeared in East Derry and the PSNI refused to have them removed. The PSNI said there was nothing illegal about the erection of such flags because they related to the "old" UVF.

Residents in the Windyhall estate in Coleraine have dismissed the PSNI claim as "completely spurious" pointing to the fact that UVF flags had been erected at the spot where four UVF paramilitaries had been killed by their own bomb in 1975.

Meanwhile Sinn Féin MLA John O Dowd has called on the Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan to investigate a joint PSNI and LVF operation in Lurgan town centre in which PSNI officers accompanied prominent unionist paramilitaries erecting sectarian flags.

"Nationalists are angry at the erection of unionist paramilitary flags and the role of the PSNI in this. There is clearly a fundamental policing problem in the Lurgan area. The PSNI operation to facilitate the erection of sectarian flags stands in stark contrast to their apparent inability to thwart sectarian attacks on Catholic homes at the weekend," said O Dowd.

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