Paramilitary flags erected across north despite loyalist protocol
PARAMILITARY flags have been erected on lampposts across Northern Ireland just days after leading loyalists unveiled plans to do away with illegal displays.
Members of the Loyalist Communities Council announced a new 'protocol' which includes a three-month limit on the flying of flags and a new flag to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
At the launch in west Belfast, attended by representatives of the three main loyalist groupings, the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, it was said that the Somme design would replace paramilitary flags.
However, in the last few days UDA flags have appeared across the lower Shankill area of west Belfast, with UFF flags also erected in the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey.
And in east Belfast UVF flags are expected to be put up over the next week, with sources claiming they were never consulted about the Somme plan.
Alliance Party MLA Paula Bradshaw last night said "there can never be any justification for the flying of paramilitary flags and we cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this practice".
"Eighteen years after the Good Friday Agreement paramilitaries should not exist, never mind marking out territory with the use of illegal flags in our communities," she said.
A previous protocol on flags was abandoned after the decision by Belfast city council in December 2012 to restrict the flying of the Union flag at City Hall to designated days, sparking months of loyalist protests.
Loyalists have told the Irish News the new initiative was "doomed to fail".
"People are still raw from the City Hall decision, and then they have to watch this on the news without anyone consulting people on the ground," said one source.
However, south Belfast loyalist Jackie McDonald insisted the new protocol still stands and having no paramilitary flags on arterial routes should be seen as a "positive step".
"There are some areas who chose not to sign up and they'll always do their own thing and others who seem to be interpreting in a way that they feel flags within estates are fine.
"Obviously it's disappointing that some people are maybe misinterpreting the protocol but if the Somme flag is displayed along main arterial routes this summer then that should be welcomed and that is something that we can build on."