Northern Ireland news

Loyalist paramilitary flags outside Tesco creating a 'chill factor' for shoppers

The flags were spotted outside Tesco Newtownbreda.
Allan Preston

The appearance of loyalist paramiltary flags outside a major Tesco store in south Belfast is creating a "chill factor" for shoppers, a councillor has said.

A blue UDA flag was among flags appearing on lamposts near the grounds of Tesco Newtownbreda in recent days.

Elsewhere, UVF flags were also spotted along the lower part of the Ravenhill Road towards the Ormeau embankment.

SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said political leadership was needed to tackle the familiar blight of unwanted flags.

"There's no cause or excuse that justifies the flying of any paramilitary flag," he told The Irish News.

"Unfortunately, it's nothing new and it's deeply frustrating. For years we've been fobbed off with talks of a flags protocol that clearly never worked in any shape or form that was meaningful."

The flags were spotted outside Tesco Newtownbreda.

He said that little progress had also been made after Stormont set up a commission to report the issue of Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition.

Mr Lyons said confusion remained over who was responsible or for removing offensive flags.

"We've heard a variety of things over the years. Lamp posts fall under the Department of Infrastructure, they say it's a public order issue and pass it to the PSNI.

"The PSNI say it's a cultural expression issue and they hand it back to the political side of the house.

"To be honest, that's probably where it needs to be sorted with an agreed political framework.

"There's no point in playing the pass the parcel approach we've done over the last ten years."

He said polling had continuously pointed out that most people of all traditions did not want flags in their area.

"They cause anxiety and creates a question about the rule of law. These people put the flags up without fear of interruption.

"It just seems to undermine that concept that we live in a society where everybody plays by the same rules."

He continued: "That Tesco draws people from all across south Belfast and as far as Saintfield as well.

The flags were spotted outside Tesco Newtownbreda.

"It's a big destination, so that's presumably why they put it on that ringroad. It's going to impact on businesses as well.

"We've seen it before, when people see an area bedecked in paramilitary flags, they don't feel welcome and there's a chill factor.

"They vote with their feet and they stay away. If you're a worker in Tesco as well, how do you feel about having to pass under a paramilitary flag every day to get to work?"

Tesco has been contacted for a response.