North Down Alliance Councillor and Justice Spokesperson, Stephen Farry, has described as “very significant” the first ever convictions secured under the Terrorism Act for being in possession of flags associated with illegal paramilitary organisations.
Four individuals were convicted in Bangor Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday 2 March. The accused were charged and convicted under Article 13(1) of the Terrorism Act (2002). Under this legislation, “A person in a public place commits an offence if he wears an item of clothing, or wears, carries or displays an article in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.” Sentencing has been deferred until the end of the month.
The charges related to the erection of a vast number of LVF Flags in the Loughview Estate in Holywood last summer. It is one of few mixed public housing areas in Northern Ireland. There was a strong local reaction to the erection of a range of flags. On two occasions, the police intervened to help remove flags, and subsequently made a number of arrests.
Commenting upon the convictions, Stephen Farry stated:
“This is the first successful prosecution of people for being in possession of, and erecting flags associated with paramilitary organisations under the Terrorism Act (2000).
“The PSNI’s North Down Command is to be congratulated for taking the initiative, and the DPP applauded for proceeding with the case.
“Every year, paramilitary flags are erected in many housing estates and arterial routes around Northern Ireland. While people have a right to celebrate their culture, a celebration of violence has no place in any society. They mark out territory, and send out the message that certain organisations are in control, and that certain people are not welcome.
“These flags are intimidating and imposed upon communities. Those who object to them are powerless to speak out. They do nothing to promote tourism or inward investment.
“It is important that the authorities are seen to be taking a stand and that common civic space is defended.
“As a result of these convictions, I hope that a strong message will be sent out that paramilitaries cannot turn housing estates into ghettoes with impunity.
“A strong precedent has now been set. This successful action must not now be the last action to be taken, but the first of many to tackle this annual scourge.”