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Politicians hit out at those behind erection of flags while cops and DRD say ‘not our responsibility’

PSNI and DRD Pass The Buck On Flags

By Paul Ainsworth

LOYALIST FLAGS erected without permission on the Lisburn Road have left locals confused as to who has responsibility for tackling the issue after both the PSNI and the Department of Regional Development said the other body bore responsibility.

The flags were hung from lampposts along the South Belfast thoroughfare last Wednesday by gangs of young loyalists overseen by older men.

Residents and local businesses have hit out at the flags appearing in a mixed residential and commercial area which is already struggling in trading terms.

However, both the PSNI and the Department of Regional Development’s Roads Service, who own “street furniture” including lampposts, have said the other body is responsible for dealing  with any problems arising from the display of such symbols.

A multi-agency protocol is currently in place to tackle the contentious issue of flags and emblems, involving police and a number of Stormont departments.

In a statement to this paper, a DRD spokesman highlighted the ‘difficulty’ in tackling flags in mixed areas, and said the multi-agency approach was the best option. However, he added: “Where a flag is causing tension or is having a detrimental effect on the quality of life in a community, the police service is the lead agency.”

Yet when contacted over the Lisburn Road flags, a PSNI spokesman said: “This is a civil matter for the department or organisation that owns the street furniture.”

The appearance of new flags was criticised by Balmoral councillors, who warned that visitors could be put off coming to the road at a time when the area’s image was being promoted heavily as an upmarket shopping destination.

Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir labelled the flag flying a “disgrace”, and called on those with influence to help return the road to a flag-free zone.

“The onus to get them down has to be on those who have influence over those who came into the area and put them up,” he said.

“It’s a hot potato for the DRD, police, local traders, and local residents. We should be concentrating on doing what we can to make visitors come to the road. Those responsible for erecting them need to wise up.”

The SDLP’s Claire Hanna added: “No-one welcomes these on the Lisburn Road. It’s out of character for the area, and no-one is even asked if they want them up. It’s certainly in no way helpful to the traders who are struggling to attract visitors to the road. It’s now up to the Stormont Executive to show some political leadership on tackling the issue of flags once and for all.”

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