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Wilson: I made decision in February

Published 08/05/2013

Bimpe Archer




FINANCE minister Sammy Wilson revealed yesterday that he took the decision to fly Union flags at all government buildings under DUP control in February.

He said the decision was taken in response to the move by Belfast City Council to stop the permanent flying of the Union flag at the city hall and the loyalist protests that followed.

He ordered the move to show a "more dignified way of expressing our Britishness" than the violent public disturbances which had accompanied many of the loyalist protests.

Mr Wilson blamed a "disgruntled employee" for making his decision public, after being accused by ministerial colleagues of failing to consult ahead of the erection of new flagpoles at five buildings in Belfast.

Mr Wilson dismissed criticism over his lack of consultation on the matter after it emerged that other Stormont ministers only became aware of the development after reading yesterday's Irish News.

"I didn't need to [consult]," he said.

"The law was on my side here. The Northern Ireland Flag Order 2000 actually stated the buildings, including the building which [SDLP minister] Alex Attwood has his [office] in.

"I made the decision way back in the beginning of February."

Loyalists began protesting in December following a vote by Belfast City Councillors to limit the display to designated days.

Violent scenes accompanied three months of demonstrations which saw more than 200 people arrested.

Homes and offices of Alliance councillors were attacked in unionist communities in Belfast, Carrickfergus and north Down after the party became the focus of anger for proposing the controversial council motion.

Dozens of police officers were injured during the worst of the violence, with unrest still taking place on the streets in February.

Meanwhile, city centre traders hit out at the action, aimed at paralysing the area on the busiest shopping times, saying it was driving them out of business.

A recent proposal by the DUP to fly the flag at the Cenotaph on the city hall grounds failed after the British Legion said they did not want the sculpture of remembrance politicised.

Mr Wilson said: "I said I would look for constructive ways, look for dignified ways of people expressing their Britishness.

"What better way of doing that than saying: `Here's a way forward'.

"This is the law which was agreed by the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the unionist parties, so we're all acting together in this because we all agreed that these were the buildings that [they] should be on.

"That was in a bill that went through Westminster, so what more consultation do you need than this?"

■ MOVE: Finance minister Sammy Wilson