Alliance sports spokesman councillor Michael Long has branded Belfast Councillor Jim Rodgers “an apologist for paramilitary symbolism and sectarianism”, after the Ulster Unionist reportedly defended the flying of UVF flags at a football supporters’ club.
In today’s Irish News, Mr Rodgers claimed that UVF flags erected at the First East Belfast Northern Ireland Supporters Club were ‘flags of the old UVF’ which were often “mistaken” for the flag of the ‘new UVF’.
Mr Rodgers was reported to have said: “There are many flags in the area [Newtownards Road] and sometimes people mistake the flag of the new UVF – which is illegal – for the flag of the old UVF – which was legal. The UVF under Edward Carson was a legal army and some of the flags that fly in the area are of the old UVF.”
Calling for the flags to be removed immediately, Councillor Long condemned the comments and stated: “Not only is this a historical inaccuracy, but Jim Rodgers has defended the flying of paramilitary flags, which is inexcusable at a time when this community is reeling from the scourge of sectarianism.”
“Jim isn’t just an apologist for paramilitary symbolism and sectarianism, but his comments have demonstrated his ignorance of his own history by claiming that the ‘old UVF’ was legal.”
“This was never the case. The ‘old UVF’ was a private army, and was as illegal in 1912 as the ‘new UVF’ is in 2002. Jim also chooses to ignore the fact that it is the UVF of today that erects these flags for its own sinister purposes.”
“In a sense the ‘old/new’ argument is unimportant, because the effect of the flag here is the same; to tell Catholics that they are not welcome in this East Belfast Supporters Club.”
“At a time when the IFA and Belfast City Council have embarked on major projects to take on sectarianism, Jim’s comments are sadly out of step and would appear to be a pathetic attempt to justify the sickening trappings of loyalist paramilitarism.”