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Loyalists demand the removal of Co Derry Christmas tree

Loyalists have demanded the removal of a Christmas tree in Magherafelt, Co Derry. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Connla Young

A LOYALIST group involved in a bitter row over the removal of a Union flag from the centre of a Co Derry town has demanded that a Christmas tree put up nearby be taken down.

The British Truth Forum confirmed last night that it has made separate complaints to Mid Ulster District Council and the PSNI about the tree in the centre of Magherafelt.

Forum chairman William Lennox said there are “Muslims in the town and a lot of non Christians” who may be offended by the festive tree.

In a letter to the council Mr Lennox, who was previously linked to the Protestant Coalition, claimed that the tree had not undergone an equality impact assessment (EQIA) and demanded its removal.

He says a similar letter was also handed into the town’s PSNI station.

The 12-metre tree is an annual feature in the town and hundreds of people are expected to gather tomorrow night for the Christmas lights switch-on.

The tree is located close to where a Union flag and pole were removed by Mid Ulster District Council last year as part of public realm work carried out in the area.

The move sparked unionist anger and in February this year the British Truth Forum replaced the flag and pole.

However, both were also later removed after council contractors cut the pole down.

A large piece of public art has since been placed on the roundabout where the disputed flag once stood.

Several Union flags were later put up around the town centre by loyalists.

The group, who criticise the DUP on their website saying they can no longer trust "these deceitful people to gradually dilute our Britishness" posted a picture earlier this year of Mr Lennox with DUP leader Arlene Foster and MLA Keith Buchanan thanking the politicians for meeting with them to listen to their concerns about the removal of the flag-pole.

Mr Lennox last night said the group is opposed to the location of the tree.

“We are asking them to move the tree. We are not saying we don’t want a Christmas tree but there are people offended by Christmas, who don’t celebrate Christmas.

“If the council says our Union flag offends people then the Christmas tree has offended people.

“The council has to stick to their policies.”

Mr Lennox, who describes himself as a Christian, said "Christmas trees are being hijacked and it’s a pagan ceremony”.

A spokeswoman for Mid Ulster Council last night said a “complaint has been received in relation to the Christmas tree erected in Magherafelt town centre this week, with a query about whether there was an EQIA carried out for same.

“We have initiated our complaints process and it will be dealt with in due course."

The spokeswoman added that an equality impact assessment was not carried out and that “EQIAs are only required when a major negative impact on equality of opportunity and/or good relations has been identified via an equality screening exercise”.

PSNI inspector Andrew Archibald said: "Police received a letter on Monday 20 November regarding the positioning of the Christmas tree in Magherafelt. This is a matter for the local Council."

A flag pole being taken down in Magherafelt in February:

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