Flying of Union and Northern Ireland flags on mixed Ormeau Road designed to 'mark territory'
THE flying of Union and other flags in a shared area of south Belfast is designed to 'mark territory' and raise tensions, nationalist politicians have said.
Flags - including the Union and Northern Ireland flags - were placed on lamp-posts on the upper Ormeau Road and Sunnyside Street on Wednesday.
The area is home to some of the most diverse communities in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Féin called on the PSNI to remove the flags.
However, the PSNI said it does not have the power to do so and can only act if there is a risk to public safety.
Sinn Féin MLA Deirdre Hargey said the flying of the flags was "a clear attempt to raise community tensions".
"This is a community with huge diversity and it's a shared space, flags should never be used to mark out territory and intimidate people," she said.
"Sinn Féin has met with the PSNI recently over the raising of tensions as we approach the summer, and they have a responsibility to act when these incidents occur.
"The local community, representatives and the police should be working together to reduce tensions.
"These flags should be removed immediately."
A Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition was established more than five years ago as part of commitments made under the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements.
It made 45 recommendations in a report published in December.
But it failed to find a consensus on many of the issues and did not include an action plan to implement any of its findings.
SDLP South Belfast MP Claire Hanna said most people in the Ormeau area do not want any national flags flown.
She criticised a lack of action at Stormont over the flags issue.
"Ormeau, as with south Belfast as a whole, is a diverse and shared neighbourhood where people of all political outlooks and none live side by side, including unionists and loyalists," she said.
"We need to create frameworks that allow people to feel their identity and traditions are respected, but without them dominating the public space for months at a time as is the case with flags left to rot on lampposts throughout the year.
"Despite spending large sums on the FICT, Stormont has failed to address this problem for many years and it isn't good enough. This isn't an unsolvable problem."
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said police will continue to work with communities but officers' powers are limited.
"Within the current statutory framework, the removal of flags is not the responsibility of the police service nor do we have a specific power to do so and we will only act to remove flags where there are assessed risks to public safety owing to their erection," he said.
"We are aware that this is a sensitive issue for the whole community and there is no easy solution. There is no community or political consensus on the flags issue and ultimately this requires a political, not a policing resolution.
"Our experience shows the most effective solution to this issue is negotiation, mediation and engagement between local communities working with agencies including local police.
"We will continue to work with local communities and partners to find long term solutions to the issues surrounding the flying of flags."