Northern Ireland news

Allison Morris: Whether flags go or stay doesn't solve wider problem

UVF flags were removed from Cantrell Close in east Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.

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THE removal of UVF flags from the shared housing development at Cantrell Close in south Belfast is of course a positive move, but doesn't take away from the fact the flags should never have been put up in the first place.

That flags remain in nearby Global Crescent, also a shared development, weakens the strength of the 'goodwill gesture' and makes it appear more like a political stunt.

Whether the flags go or stay does not address the underlying problem of growing sectarianism, or the political vacuum and manipulation of economically deprived communities in which such division thrives.

The tit for tat series of killings and retaliation may have ended in Northern Ireland but the finger pointing and retaliatory accusations continues.

The eviction of four Catholic families last week shows just how deep divisions still run, the threat to two loyalists just days after all feeds into an already volatile situation.

The Chief Constable George Hamilton said yesterday that elements within the UVF were responsible for the threat.

"Whether or not that is an organisational position we don't know because it is a chaotic disorganised crime group," Northern Ireland's most senior policeman added.

The fractured, disorganised nature of loyalism is no secret, the two main paramilitary groups mainly operate as autonomous fiefdoms.

The PSNI's ability to state who they believe is responsible, while at the same time thousands of people have been intimidated from their homes in a ten year period without not a single conviction, will hardly instil confidence in those who are now homeless.

The Housing Executive, who are left to pick up the pieces after such incidents, cannot be tasked with battling sectarianism by arbitrating on who lives where, the housing body already operates in a unique and unenviable political situation.

A good starting point would be a flags protocol that is adhered to for the right reasons, that of community harmony, and not just used as a phrase without meaning when there is the promise of funding on the horizon.

And the politicans elected to represent the targeted communities need to be clear on whether they stand with the people or the paramilitaries, for they cannot do both.

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