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Loyalists claim police consulted before flags erected

Flags go up on Ormeau Road ahead of the 12 July. Picture Hugh Russell.

Loyalists have claimed union flags erected in a mixed area of south Belfast were placed there with the consent of the police and will be removed by agreement at the start of September.

A spokesman for the Progressive Unionist Party was responding to criticism that flags placed along Ormeau Road in the last week were placed there to raise tensions. Last year police removed the flags from a section of the Ormeau Road saying they constituted a "breach of the peace".

However, when asked this week Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw said police "will only act to remove flags where there are substantial risks to public safety".

"Until the 'joint protocol in relations to the display of flags in public areas' is updated, the PSNI will continue to work with communities to and respond to any issue where there is a concern for public safety or where it is believed a criminal offence has occurred".

The PUP has told the Irish News this week that the union and Ulster flags were placed along the section of main road in the run-up to the July 1, annual Battle of the Somme commemoration. Loyalist band parades were held across the North last night (WED) to mark the start of the anniversary of the WW1 battle.

Nationalist politicians have said they will be seeking a meeting with police to discuss the flags, South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna said business owners were "frustrated" by the number of flags in the area.

Loyalists say the flags were placed on the main Ormeau Road after consultation and with full cooperation of the PSNI.

"A local PUP representative spoke to police regarding the erecting of Union and Ulster flags", the spokesman said.

"The police assured him that erecting the flags was not a breach of peace as long as they were non-paramilitary.

"Ballynafeigh is a settled, mixed community with good community relations. In a diverse community like Ballynafeigh, which is a shared space for both traditions, the Unionist culture should at least be tolerated if not accepted.

"Erecting flags in July and August has been part of the Unionist culture and tradition for the last 100 years, otherwise acceptance of others means nothing. There was no concern for public safety in any sense and no laws were broken. There were no illegal flags erected.

"This has been confirmed by the police to the local PUP representative who had negotiated with the police. He was congratulated by the police for his action and community commitment."

And the PUP spokesman said the flags would be removed in early September as part of a voluntary agreement with police.

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