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Controversial Union flag in centre of Magherafelt to come down

The controversial Union flag in the centre of Magherafelt. Picture by Mal McCann
Connla Young

A controversial Union flag which flies all year round in a majority-nationalist Co Derry town is set to be removed.

The flag, which has flown in the centre of Magherafelt for decades, is to be taken down as part of a £1.9m town centre revamp.

An official from Mid Ulster District Council, which is overseeing the 'public realm' scheme to re-pave footpaths and landscape main streets, has confirmed the “design does not include a flagpole”.

The roundabout where the flagpole currently stands will be planted out in shrubs with a space left for future artwork.

The Orange Order has met with council officials in a bid to find a new location for the contentious flag.

In the past mystery has surrounded who was responsible for the flag, which flies from a pole in a flowerbed in the town’s main traffic junction.

Nationalists have called for it to be removed amid claims it is damaging to community relations.

The news comes after it emerged the Royal British Legion (RBL) wants to build a five-metre high war memorial in the middle of the town’s Broad Street, just yards from the Union flag.

The SDLP has said it will support the memorial while Sinn Féin has so far declined to comment.

Both unionist and nationalist sources have denied speculation of a backroom deal which would see the removal of the flag in return for the erection of the British army memorial.

DUP group leader Paul McLean last night said he is not aware of any deal.

“The flag is one issue and the memorial is another and they are not linked,” he said.

Although the proposed site of the memorial is within the public realm area, a council spokeswoman said it is not part of the project.

The RBL said it originally wanted to locate the structure in Market Street but was told by council representatives that Broad Street “would be the preferred option”.

However, a council spokeswoman has said no direction was given.

A Mid Ulster council document obtained by the Irish News reveals that during a meeting with officials last year members of the Orange Order "were keen" to explore options for relocating the flagpole "other than outside of their own lodge".

According to an unnamed official’s note of the meeting, if the flag was not permitted inside the public realm area then the order was keen to secure a location “just outside" it.

The document reveals that a council officer discussed alternative sites for the Union flag "where it was both prominent but benefited from a sense of place or belonging such as next to a public building”.

The order suggested the local library as a possible location but was told this was in the public realm area.

A local Presbyterian church was also proposed as a potential site and Orangemen agreed to discuss the issue with Church authorities.

However, the church’s minister, Dr Jonathan Curry, last night said the issue has yet to be raised.

The Orange Order’s Magherafelt District Lodge declined to comment when contacted.

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