Northern Ireland news

Union flag ‘should not be flown in Belfast to mark Prince Andrew's birthday next month', SDLP says

The duke (61) has lost the use of his military titles and royal patronages

BELFAST City Council should not fly the Union flag to mark Prince Andrew’s birthday next month, an SDLP councillor has said.

The flag is flown from Belfast City Hall on days designated by the British Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

One of those days is the Duke of York's birthday on February 19.

SDLP councillor Dónal Lyons has formally requested that the flag not be flown, given that the British royal is facing sexual assault allegations.

The duke (61) has lost the use of his military titles and royal patronages amid a US civil action over sexual assault allegations - claims he has consistently denied.

US citizen Virginia Giuffre said she was the victim of sex trafficking and abuse by convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein from the age of 16.

Ian Knox cartoon 15/1/21 

Ms Giuffre (38) alleges the abuse included assaults by other powerful men - including the duke.

She said the duke sexually assaulted her on three occasions when she was under the age of 18.

Mr Lyons said given the allegations it would be “totally inappropriate to fly the Union flag from Belfast City Hall to mark his (the prince’s) birthday next month”.

"With the renewed and long overdue focus and on men’s violence and abuse against women and girls, honouring the Duke of York in this way would send an atrocious message about our priorities,” he said.

"The #MeToo movement and other campaigns over recent years have highlighted the importance of believing victims and supporting them when they come forward to seek justice.

"We should not be honouring a man who is facing these type of allegations."

In late 2012 and early 2013, loyalists held protests across the north, some of them violent, against Belfast City Council's decision to stop flying the Union flag every day.

Mr Lyons said his concerns about marking Prince Andrew’s birthday were not an attempt to alter any broader agreement around the flying of the Union flag in Belfast.

"The designated days approach is a compromise which has been in place for the best part of a decade and we’re not trying to reopen those discussions," he said.

"DCMS have responsibility for designating which days the flag flies and they really should be reassessing whether including the Duke of York’s birthday is appropriate, because it’s clearly not.

"Locally I’m more than happy to work with unionist parties in City Hall to facilitate a more appropriate day so that a designated day is not lost to those who it hold it important.

"Fundamentally this is about the attitudes we demonstrate towards men’s violence against women and girls.

"If we take this issue seriously, as all political parties profess to, then there can be no room for exceptions."

A council spokeswoman told The Irish News any decision around the flying of the Union flag is a matter for councillors to discuss.

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