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Dismay over flags outside church

By Evan Short

Calls for loyalists to respect Catholic places of worship have been made after flags were put up outside a North Belfast church.
St Mary’s Greencastle lies just yards from a bonfire being built and two weeks ago flags were erected at its gates. The move comes shortly after paramilitary flags were erected at Carnmoney cemetery.
Sinn Féin councillor Tierna Cunningham said she had received a number of complaints about the flags while the NBN was also contacted by angry parishioners.
“There is a lot of anger and I will be contacting the relevant people to ask them to be removed,” said Tierna.
“We are very respectful of where we put our flags during our Easter commemorations and don’t put them outside the Methodist Church on the Whitewell Road. This is a new thing for St Mary’s.”
One parishioner who contacted the North Belfast News said they felt intimidated by it on their way to Mass.
“There is a bonfire just down the road a bit and they put the flags all the way up to the church. It’s just pure intimidation. They know this is a Catholic church, and they know they are not supposed to be putting them outside churches but no one is stopping them. They do what they want.”
The North Belfast News contacted Parish Priest Fr Anthony Alexander who said he hadn’t noticed the flags.
There have been claims of ‘a lack of loyalist representation’ in the area because of difficulties within the UDA. Formally under the control of Rathcoole, the Gray’s Lane area now falls between South Antrim and North Belfast where there has been a schism in recent years between pro and anti peace process factions.
This, a source has claimed, has led to a wider increase in the number of banners being erected across North Belfast and Newtownabbey, including in mixed areas where there is no tradition of flag flying. The size of the flags has also increased, and in some areas such as the O’Neill Road paramilitary flags have also appeared.
A PSNI spokesman said the flag issue was one that could only be dealt with locally.
“The removal of flags is not the responsibility of the PSNI and police will only act to remove flags in extreme circumstances, for example, where life is at risk. The erection and removal of flags and banners falls within the remit of the Joint Protocol in Relation to the Display of Flags in Public Areas.
“This protocol was to be reviewed by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the Police Service looks forward to the outcome of this review and future clarity on the flags issue.
“A long term resolution to the display of flags and banners in public areas can only be reached by political consensus.

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