'We'll never remove any flag at the behest of Sinn Féin/IRA'

The flags, including a UVF symbol, are flying at the entrance to Sydenham train station in east Belfast. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

A LOYALIST bonfire group which held a fun day to coincide with the funeral of Martin McGuinness has said unionists will "never remove any flag at the behest of Sinn Féin/IRA", after the party complained about flags erected near Belfast City Airport.

Sinn Féin councillor Mairéad O'Donnell had called on unionist politicians to "act urgently" after UVF and Union flags were erected at the entrance to Sydenham train station.

The flags appeared on a lamppost on Inverary Drive, a short distance from the airport and one of the first sights to greet visitors using the station.

In a statement on Facebook, Sydenham Bonfire group, which held a "cultural fun day" to coincide with the funeral of the former deputy first minister in March, said the flags "will always fly in East Belfast".

The group is under investigation by Belfast City Council after holding the party with flags, burgers, bouncy castles and face painting, at Inverary Playing Fields, which is owned by the council.

The loyalist group said: "Sinn Féin's IRA inflicted over 30 years of terrorism on our community, they will never be welcome nor tolerated.

"All the flags flying are entirely lawful and a legitimate celebration of unionist culture.

"Now we have one of Sinn Féin's new agitators poking their nose into unionist areas of East Belfast. This will not be tolerated and it is quite conceivable that many more flags will now be erected to send a strong message to Sinn Féin."

They added: "The unionist community of East Belfast will never remove any flag at the behest of Sinn Féin/IRA."

A spokesman for the Department for Infrastructure said that it while it "does not approve of the unauthorised use of departmental property, the removal of flags needs to be treated with sensitivity".

The spokesman said: "The general policy position is that the department removes flags or attachments that pose a danger to road users, for example, obscure a sightline, obstruct the passage of vehicles or pedestrians, or compromise the structural stability of the lighting column.

"Where there is no such danger, the department acts in accordance with the multi-agency Joint Protocol in Relation to the Display of Flags in Public Areas that was launched in 2005.

"The protocol aimed, with support from communities and their representatives, to address the removal of flags from arterial routes, town centres and from particular locations, such as interface areas or near schools, hospitals and churches."

The department's spokesperson added: "The protocol states that where the display is one that is causing community tension or is affecting the quality of life for a community, then the police will take the lead."

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