DUP's Jim Wells says Rathfriland water tower flags 'very tastefully done'
THE DUP's Jim Wells has defended flags being placed on a water tower, saying it was "very tastefully done" and those involved have been admired for their "tenacity".
He said the Union and Northern Ireland flags were erected atop the 110ft structure in Rathfriland to mark the Co Down town hosting a Twelfth parade.
Red, white and blue paint on top of the tower was also "refreshed" for the occasion, the MLA said.
NI Water had said the flags were "erected without permission" following a "break-in" and the issue was reported to police.
The flags are expected to be removed in the coming days.
Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard criticised the display in the mixed town as "clearly intended to mark out territory and intimidate".
He said a police investigation "must continue so that an incident like this will not happen again".
Mr Wells, who attended the Twelfth parade in Rathfriland, said it "went extremely well" and he did not receive any complaints about the flags display.
"I saw it and I thought that's very tastefully done, and of course the vast majority of people who live around the tower would be from the unionist community," he said.
Mr Wells said the flags were "attached without doing any damage", apart from a lock being "adjusted, put it that way, to get in through the tower".
"I have been in contact with the people who decorated the tower. There was no intent to cause any ill feeling to anyone," he added.
Mr Wells said the parade is held in different areas of south Down on a rotation and is not expected in Rathfriland for another eight years.
He said the flags were "just to mark a very momentous occasion".
"People admire the tenacity of the young people for doing it. I have assured the water service that this issue won't arise for another eight years," he added.
Built in 1977, the tower holds almost 700,000 litres of water and supplies Rathfriland town.
Police said they received a report earlier this month of flags erected and damage caused to the water tower.
The red, white and blue paint atop the tower has been present in previous years. Flags have also been erected on previous occasions.