North Down Alliance Councillor and Party Justice Spokesperson, Stephen Farry, has welcomed the sentencing today, at Bangor Magistrate’s Court, of four individuals, for terms of four to five months in prison, in relation to the possession of illegal paramilitary flags.
Dr Farry stated:
“These sentences are the first under the Terrorism Act (2000) for possessing paramilitary flags. They set an important precedent and send out a powerful message.
“If people are going to display paramilitary flags, they are now clearly exposing themselves to the risk of a criminal prosecution, with the potential for a custodial sentence.
“These flags are used to mark out territory, usually against the will of local residents who are powerless to speak out. They are the symbols of the grip that paramilitaries seek to exercise over communities. They are bad for promoting and protecting mixed housing, improving community relations, and attracting tourism and inward investment.
“This problem is not going to be addressed overnight, nor is it going to be resolved through law enforcement alone, but it is now clear that the police and the courts can take action against those flaunting paramilitarism and creating a climate of fear. No longer can it be said that the authorities are powerless to take action against this major problem.
“North Down Command of the Police Service deserve credit for taking the initiative in this matter. It is a clear example of the decentralisation of decision-making within the police. I hope that other areas will learn the lessons of the good practice adopted by North Down.”
These four individuals were originally convicted 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 was deferred until 31 March
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.