Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson, Councillor Stephen Farry, has called for public agencies to come together to tackle the annual scourge of paramilitary flags.
Councillor Farry stated: “Paramilitary flags are an annual scourge in Northern Ireland, and there can be no justification for them. While people have the right to celebrate their culture, a celebration of violence has no place in any society. These flags are intimidating and imposed upon communities. For far too long, the authorities have mainly turned a blind-eye.
“Alliance welcomes actions taken by the PSNI in places such as Holywood and Antrim to remove paramilitary flags. But they have the powers to go further. The Terrorism Act (2000) makes it a criminal offence to ‘solicit support for a proscribed organisation’.
“This law is still untested, but if unsuccessful, consideration should be given to a specific offence of erecting a flag associated with a paramilitary organisation. Such steps would be consistent with the Human Rights Act.
“This is not just a policing problem. Public agencies such as Roads Service and the Housing Executive also have a duty, under equality legislation, to ensure that their services are provided in a neutral manner. Too often, pressure is placed on communities to speak out, ignoring the climate of fear that exists in many estates.
“The Northern Ireland Assembly did back an Alliance motion calling for an cross-departmental working group to tackle this problem but no action was taken. The UUP and SDLP failed to take the initiative forward. There is now an urgent need for the NIO to take action.
“We cannot expect miracles overnight, but a stand has to be taken. The first place to start is in defending mixed areas, arterial routes and neutral town centres.”