Alarm grows over flags and bonfires
It is profoundly depressing that, almost 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, familiar issues involving flags and bonfires are still have the capacity to cause enormous harm to community relations.
There can be no doubt that fringe elements from both the loyalist and republican sectors have repeatedly caused offence by intimidatory behaviour at different stages but it is the attitude of mainstream unionism which is very much under the spotlight at present.
While the concept of shared neighbourhoods was never going to be easy in a divided society, the attitude of some DUP figures towards the display of paramilitary symbols in such sensitive areas is deeply questionable
We really should be moving towards a position where our politicians across the board agree that provocative emblems should not be produced anywhere they may cause upset.
Instead, the placing of UVF flags at a new housing development at Ravenhill Avenue in Belfast, which was specifically designed for the use of people of all religions and none, was greeted with equivocal statements from the DUP.
We have also seen union flags appearing along the nearby Ormeau Road against the clearly expressed wishes of residents in the mixed district.
The anger of those who attended Friday's peaceful protest meeting in a local park was fully justified and needs to be acknowledged at an official level.
Senior police officers insist that removing flags is not their responsibility and they can only intervene if they believe that there are `substantial risks to public safety.'
It will be widely accepted that the police are in a difficult position but there will also be a strong feeling that general policies on offensive displays need to be urgently reviewed.
If hundreds of residents come out to express their total opposition to unwanted flags put up by a handful of individuals along a main road, the idea that police should effectively avoid taking sides is not sustainable.
Belfast city council has managed to cause further alarm by its astonishing decision to store and return pallets, some of which were known to have been stolen in the first place, for use in loyalist bonfires.
When large quantities of this material subsequently went missing from a civic site, it only added to farcical nature of the entire episode.
It should be stressed that many ordinary unionists are just as disturbed as their nationalist counterparts by the events of recent days.
The desire of the vast majority of citizens to live together in neutral surroundings, with a spirit of mutual respect, must be recognised by the authorities.