T HE erection of flags by loyalists at Finaghy has been slammed by both politicians and traders, who said the former flashpoint should remain a “neutral” area. Traders and residents awoke last week to find loyalist flags erected at the crossroads and along Finaghy Road South leading to the Malone Road.
The display, ahead of this year’s Orange marching season, was immediately criticised by those working in the area, but a fear remains of retribution against any trader publicly speaking out.
One trader, who did not wish to be named, said the flags were “intimidating” and would put people off shopping at the crossroads.
“It’s an intimidating display and seems to have been put up by people coming in from outside the area,” he said.
“In the past, Finaghy has had serious problems in terms of community relations, but things had really begun to improve. But these flags are just so over the top and will no doubt be stuck up there for months. It’s marking territory and will only damage the image of the area, so it’s our loss.”
The annual display of flags in Finaghy has in the past led to a deteriorating of community relations. Things had improved greatly in recent years, but after the recent axing of funding to the Finaghy Crossroads Group – which brought loyalists and republicans together to work on local concerns – the loyalist flags have returned, and with them old marching season tensions.
“Unfortunately, our funding from the International Fund for Ireland was pulled in March, so we’re basically operating on a voluntary basis when we can,” said Crossroads Group member Stephen Magennis. “In previous years we have worked to make sure some areas were kept flag free, such as Orpen, and overall there had been a huge reduction in flags, so that they were, for the most part, only placed where residents wanted them. This was done through working with loyalist leaders.”
However, since the funding was pulled, community workers in Finaghy have noticed an increase in confrontations between local youths.
“Our presence in Finaghy has obviously been affected, as we no longer have use of the office we were based in,” he added.
“Our work is needed now more than ever, as we have seen an increase in tensions, particularly among youths. I work with the Greater Dunmurry Positive Relations Partnership, and we have found that youths from both areas have been involved in confrontations, even with each other.
“It’s worrying, as at the Finaghy end our influence has taken a blow with the funding issue, and we hope the flag situation does not cause further rifts. However, the group members will be meeting again soon, voluntarily, to see where we go from here.”
Meanwhile, SDLP Balmoral Councillor Claire Hannah hit out at the raising of the new flags, saying: “It’s just not acceptable in Finaghy any more. Of course it’s illegal anyway to hang flags from street furniture, but the main thing is that Finaghy is a mixed area, and we are over a decade into a new phase of the peace process where this sort of territory marking is outdated and unnecessary.”