The Appeal Court in Downpatrick today upheld the convictions of three persons convicted of displaying illegal paramilitary flags. These were the first convictions of their kind.
The convictions 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 these flags. On two occasions, the police intervened to help remove flags, and subsequently made a number of arrests.
Four individuals were originally convicted on Tuesday, 2 March 2004, and sentenced on Wednesday, 31 March 2004. One defendant did not appeal his sentence. 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.”
Welcoming the decision of the Appeal Court, North Down Alliance Councillor and Party Justice Spokesperson, Stephen Farry, stated:
“This decision by the court vindicates the decision of the North Down Command of the PSNI to take the initiative and use the criminal law against those displaying paramilitary flags. This was indeed recognised by the judge.
“Their initial success has led to a formal strategy being developed by the police for dealing with illegal flags, and has seen further action to remove flags in other parts of Northern Ireland.
“Today’s decision puts the legal basis for such actions on a very firm footing. They set an important precedent and send out a powerful message that illegal paramilitary flags will not be tolerated.
“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.
“There is now a need for other statutory agencies, such as the Housing Executive and the Roads Service, to be pro-active in removing paramilitary symbols from their own property, and to ensure that they deliver their services in a neutral and non-discriminatory manner.”