UNION JACKS OVER COUNCIL PROPERTY

By Staff Reporter

Union flags have been erected inside Belfast City Council facilities in West and South Belfast.

The flags are flying in Council yards at Agnes Street, off the Shankill, and at  Charlotte Street, off the Donegall Pass.

The erection of the flags is being seen as an attempt by loyalists to put renewed pressure on the Council after the flags protest petered out. Catholic workers have spoken to us of their concern at the move.

Last December, councillors voted to limit the number of days the flag flies over City Hall, reducing it from 365 days to 18 per year. The decision led to widespread protests causing havoc for shoppers and businesses alike.

Some of those protests are continuing five months on. Last week it was revealed that DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has ordered the union flag to be flown at five more government buildings in the city. Work has begun to erect new flagpoles at those sites at a cost of up to £10,000.

Irate Council workers from West Belfast contacted the Andersonstown News this week to voice their concern.

“Everyone is talking about this,” said one Council employee.  “These flags went up because the flag at City Hall came down and something needs to be done.

“Can you imagine what it’s like having to walk in there as a Catholic? It’s not very nice, especially when everyone knows you’re not from that side. It’s just intimidation, pure and simple.”

Another Council worker accused Belfast City Council of not being robust enough in its response.

“They’re marking out these depots with flags but these aren’t places that are exclusive to one side of the community or another, they’re Council property and no flags should be flying when every member of the community uses the facilities.

“The Council should be doing more to get rid of them instead of treating the situation with kid gloves. I don’t imagine a tricolour would last too long at Council facilities on our side.”

Local Sinn Féin Councillor Gerard O’Neill, Vice Chair of the Council’s Health and Environmental Committee, said the Council must take rapid action.

“These flags need to be removed as soon as possible,” he said.  “The workplace is no place to have any type of emblem that intimidates or threatens people, as is obviously the case here where people are frightened going about their work. Belfast City Council has a duty of care to all its employees and to the public using the depots to ensure they are free from these types of emblems.”

A Council spokeswoman told us that they are aware of the flags.

“We are aware of the flags at two of our depots,” she said yesterday.

“There are obvious sensitivities around this issue and we are in ongoing dialogue with trade unions and staff who work out of the depots.”

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