A Sinn Fein councillor claims he has been “inundated” with complaints from both nationalists and unionists about the flying of UVF flags around Banbridge.
Condemning the erection of what he describes as “paramilitary flags”, and calling for their removal, Cllr Kevin Savage said: “We have been inundated with calls from concerned residents from both the nationalist and unionist community.
“We have contacted the PSNI as well as the council’s community development team.
“To date their conversations with the PUP to have the flags removed have proved unsuccessful.”
He continued: “Banbridge is a mixed town. I call on community representatives and other political parties to call for the removal of the flags on the basis of inclusivity and respect.
“Paramilitary flags serve no purpose and will only succeed in raising tensions in the area as we approach the marching season.”
Responding to Cllr Savage’s comments, Ulster Unionist Councillor Glenn Barr insisted that the flags in question are “historical” and are “not there to offend but to remember.”
Hitting back at the Sinn Fein man, Cllr Barr said: “Only last year members of his own party welcomed the Banbridge District Flags protocol (BDFP) - a flags protocol that many other areas in Northern Ireland have indeed adapted. In fact, the very commission that was set up by the OFMDFM on Flags Identity, Culture and Tradition has welcomed the Banbridge District Flags Protocol.
“The Union flag, the Ulster banner and historical flags are part of that protocol, which the councillor he replaced [Brendan Curran] welcomed when it was launched.
“The flags that Councillor Savage refers to are historical, they are not there to offend but to remember.
“I can categorically state that it was local residents who have signed up to the BDFP.
“No paramilitary flags should be flown full stop and local communities have taken great strides to reduce these and hopefully eradicate them altogether.
“Those that are signatories to the Banbridge District Flags Protocol have indeed stepped up to the mark and shown leadership.”
Claiming that Cllr Savage has been “extremely quiet” on issues concerning the flying of republican flags and posters, Cllr Barr added: “It is time that Councillor Savage provided leadership to his own community and follows the lead and example shown by the unionist/loyalist community. Instead of attacking the unionist community and creating divisions publicly why doesn’t he meet with us to discuss his concerns?”
Responding to the UUP man’s challenge, Cllr Savage said: “We would be happy to meet with Councillor Barr to discuss flags flying in the area.
“It is worth noting that many in the unionist community are not happy about the display of flags in the town.”
In November 2015, Cllr Savage’s predecessor, Cllr Curran, welcomed the launch of the BDFP, saying he hoped it would be “a step in the right direction.”
However, he added: “Whilst we welcome any step in the right direction we maintain the view that flags should never be flown to mark out territory and areas such as town centres should be free of flags.”
The Leader attempted to contact Banbridge PUP to discuss the flags issue, but they hadn’t responded at the time of publication.