Northern Ireland news

Jamie Bryson says DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly working with loyalists on flags protocol

DUP South Belfast MP Emma Little-Pengelly and loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson
Brendan Hughes

LOYALIST blogger Jamie Bryson has said a group he represents is working with DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly to develop a protocol on erecting flags.

It emerged after UVF flags placed outside a shared housing development in south-east Belfast were removed yesterday within hours of being put up.

The flags were erected overnight beside Cantrell Close where last year four Catholic families were forced to flee their homes following threats blamed on loyalist paramilitaries.

Politicians welcomed the removal of the flags on Ravenhill Avenue, condemning them as "intimidatory and inexcusable".

Mr Bryson, a spokesperson for a group calling itself the East Belfast Community Initiative (EBCI), insisted the flags were "not the work" of the UVF.

He said that after becoming aware of the flags, the EBCI "had discussions with people who would mediate on behalf of those linked to east Belfast UVF".

"It was made very clear that these flags were not erected by the UVF and, as a result of that, within an hour of the East Belfast Community Initiative becoming aware of this the flags have now been taken down," he told BBC's Talkback programme.

Mr Bryson said the EBCI have had "positive discussions" about a potential flags protocol and "announcements will come in due course".

He told The Irish News the engagements have involved representatives including Ms Pengelly, the DUP MP for South Belfast.

"The East Belfast Community Initiative has been in discussions with Emma Pengelly and other stakeholders about a potential flags protocol," he said.

"These discussions are ongoing and we hope to have an announcement in the near future."

If agreed, it's believed the protocol could cover areas of UVF influence in parts of east Belfast, north Down and Newtownards.

Asked about Mr Bryson's remarks, the DUP did not respond yesterday.

However, Ms Pengelly said on Twitter: "As promised, I have been working over some considerable time to seek resolution to issues around flags, particularly in the Ravenhill Avenue area. I will continue this work."

In June last year there was also controversy after UVF flags were put up in Cantrell Close and Global Crescent – new housing developments that are part of the Stormont executive's 'Together Building United Communities' programme.

At the time Ms Pengelly faced criticism for saying most people "didn't want a public fuss" about the flags. She later said she opposes paramilitary flags.

Talk of a possible protocol comes before a Stormont body set up to address flags issues is due to complete its report later this year.

The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition was formed in 2016 under the DUP and Sinn Féin's 'Fresh Start' agreement to make recommendations on dealing with the divisive issues.

But there has been discontent among the 15-member panel, with the UUP threatening to walk out because of plans for a bonfire licensing scheme by Mid Ulster council.

Mr Bryson said: "The East Belfast Community Initiative met the Flags Commission. It has always been our view that self-regulation is the best way forward.

"This is a grassroots initiative, and we will be working with people from the grassroots up – not trying to impose things on people."

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said "attempts to demarcate territory are similarly wrong" and urged "the removal of all flags" from the area.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna welcomed the removal of the "intimidatory and inexcusable" flags, while Sinn Féin MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said "no-one should be forced to kowtow to UVF or loyalist intimidation".

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