DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly criticised over UVF flags in shared neighbourhood
DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly has been criticised after claiming there was no widespread demand for the removal of UVF flags from a cross-community housing development in Belfast.
Paramilitary and other loyalist flags were put up in the Global Crescent and Cantrell Close ‘shared neighbourhoods' earlier this month.
Two flags have been hung from the majority of lampposts in the area, which is close to Ravenhill Avenue and Woodstock Road.
Global Crescent is a £13m development built by Fold Housing, now known as Radius Housing, as part of the Stormont Executive's Together Building United Communities (TBUC) strategy.
Ms Little-Pengelly said she visited around 100 homes in the area this week and found mixed views on the flags.
However, Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw last night claimed some residents may not feel “comfortable” speaking to Ms Little-Pengelly, whose candidacy for the South Belfast Westminster seat was endorsed by a UDA-linked magazine as well as the Loyalist Communities Council, which represents the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando.
Earlier this week a spokesman for the DUP said it wanted all paramilitary flags removed without referring specifically to those in the shared developments.
Ms Little-Pengelly later claimed that some local people support the flags.
"There were some people who were very supportive of the flags, people who felt very much it was part of the tradition of the local area and the wider area," she said.
"The majority of people said to me: 'We understand that the flags have gone up, but we also understand that they will come back down again'.
"Really they didn't want a public fuss around this matter."
The former Stormont junior minister also said “there were some who had concerns around this, who would prefer for the flags not to be there”.
"The way I would put this is that it was a much more complex picture than I was imagining,” she told the BBC.
She later tweeted that "I oppose all paramilitaries in our society, that includes paramilitary flags".
However, Ms Bradshaw said it was “almost beyond belief” that there was no widespread demand for the flags to be removed.
”Emma Little-Pengelly was a special adviser for the DUP when the TBUC programme was created,” she said.
“Therefore, she should know first-hand how a shared neighbourhood works - it should be welcoming to all and intimidating to none.
“To accept flags marking territory is nothing else than being an apologist to those erecting them, particularly as objective surveys show only a small minority of people support the display.”
She added: “I would be surprised if many residents would feel comfortable telling an MP who was publicly endorsed by paramilitaries only a few weeks ago they were intimidated by a flag glorifying one of those same groups.
“Instead they come to Alliance and others, often confidentially, as we realise people want to see positive community relations and good neighbourliness.”
SDLP assembly member Claire Hanna also described the MP's comments as "outrageous".
"These flags are designed to intimidate and divide," she said.
"In the face of intimidation by paramilitary organisations, it's no surprise that people are frightened of going public with their concerns on the issue."
One local resident, who did not want to be named, claimed yesterday that authorities were treating the matter in a similar way to how school bullies.
“It's easier to put up with a few people being harassed than take action against the people perpetrating it,” she said.
“It stinks to the high heavens that we have this lovely peaceful space and lovely new development and there are sectarian power plays.
“It has really lost the inclusive vibe."