Sensible steps or Council approved Ghettos?

DUP-controlled Antrim Borough Council has been condemned for paying for the erection of flagpoles complete with union flags in a predominantly loyalist area of the majority-nationalist town of Randalstown. The flags were erected in the Neilsbrook area of the town and paid for by the Community Relations Unit (OFM/DFM) and the council. However, the council did not conduct any equality impact assessment prior to the move. When Lisburn Council’s DUP majority passed a similar motion last year, which included erecting a union flag in the middle of the majority nationalist Dunmurry village, they were subsequently forced to take the flags down due to their failure to conduct a similar equality impact assessment, which is nearing completion.

Antrim Council’s move, and I’m quoting from a representative I spoke with earlier today, was in response to an “approach” from “local members of the community.” In return for the Council approved flagpoles and flags, these “local members” were to remove various UVF flags and paint out sectarian graffiti and red, white and blue kerbstones in the estate.
According to the Antrim Council spokeswoman, the PSNI had been notified about the development and did not have any objections; similarly, neither did the Housing Executive, on whose property one of the flagpoles has been erected.

Ironically, the local newspaper, the Antrim Guardian, carried a front page story only yesterday in which “loyalist sources” in Randalstown are quoted as threatening “mayhem” if a proposed republican parade takes place in the predominantly nationalist town next Easter (this is the town which hosted no less than 26 loyalist parades so far this year, with three more planned for Black Saturday and one in September.) Correction: there have been/ are plans for at least 10 loyalist parades in Randalstown this year, not 26.

When asked why the Council had not decided to erect similar flagpoles complete with the Irish national flag in a predominantly nationalist part of the borough, the spokeswoman asserted that, since the proliferation of flags in such nationalist areas had not been a problem to date, then the issue didn’t arise….Of course, I pointed out that what she was arguing, in essence, was that a precondition for the official sanctioning of the flying of the Irish national flag in the Council area was to paint kerbstones, graffiti and erect flags from every lamp post in the district!

This poses two questions. Firstly, if we are to go down the road being set out by Antrim Council and the Community Relations Unit, then there will be a demand for equality of treatment, which, ironically, will mean for the first time the erection of the Irish national flag in the north of Ireland with the public endorsement- and indeed financial subsidy- of public authorities here. Is it now the official policy of the Community Relations Unit and Antrim Council that the national rights of the nationalist community are to be afforded equal legitimacy with those of unionists? If so, then that will be an unprecedented- but welcome- step.

Secondly, at a time when the government is publicly stating that it wants to encourage a Shared Future, is it not contradictory to be encouraging such marking out of territory? The fact that a nationalist area was not selected for the pilot initiative will arouse suspicions that, really, this is just another initiative aimed at appeasing the loyalist paramilitary outfits who, as this week’s murder in Bangor and the threat carried in the Antrim Guardian illustrates, have no intention of going away.

  • mnob

    as a unionist i would agree that this episode of flag flying is undesirable and counter productive (not to mention intuitive).

  • willis

    Well if one sodding flagpole means that we can be rid of all these God-awful flags and bunting then fine.

    Can’t see it meself tho’

  • Setants

    I think that councils like Antrim and Lisburn are in for an overdue rude awakening when the Review is finalised.

    Do they seriously expect to be able to continue with low brow sectarianism like this?

  • circles

    Good post Chris!
    Wonder what F_D would make of this – this is a post right up his street I should think

  • rapunsel

    I don’t know to what extent other council’s have facilitated the sectarian marking out of territory but in one sense there is an attempt at win win going on here with “official” flag flying being sanctioned if the flying of flags from every lamppost and painting of kerbs is halted.

    I don’t know that nationalist controlled councils have gone so far as this nor that any council shoudl actually pay for an ” official” flag post — but a number of counciuls have taken no action against monuments erected without planning permission with Willie Clarke in Down pictured alongside Catriona Ruane at the unveiling of one. No easy answers to this wider problem — I still believe that the statutory agencies who own the lampposts and kerb stones should be removing and cleaning them alongside PSNI as required but that won’t work on it’s own.

  • Patrique

    Compared to some of the antics at the council, labelling Travellers as “scumbags” and all Eastern Europeans as “paedophiles”, this could nearly be seen as a step forward.Mind you it was the UUP who did the labelling.

  • Oilibhear Chromaill

    Whatever about the erection of flagpoles in Antrim, I’m interested in the involvement of the Community Relations Unit of OFMDFM in this; How does the erection of a Union Flag help community relations? Any flag?

    And what is this unit up to – aren’t these offices supposed to be mothballed in ‘care and maintenance’ – and supporting the erection of provocative flag poles in Antrim doesn’t fit in with my idea of care and maintenance.

  • unionist

    This project has not at anytime been considered by the council.

    It is a project delivered by the DUP and the UVF (local community reps)

    The dup’s were warned that the route they were taking would result in the council having to fly the tricolour in parts of the borough but ignored the advice.

  • willis

    Unionist

    Curiouser and Curiouser!

    You are saying that it was paid for in part by the council but not considered by them.

    Any links?

  • Chris Donnelly

    After speaking with both the Community Relations Unit of the OFM/DFM yesterday and the Council, I can provide a bit of an update.

    This was an Antrim Borough Council initiative, which was proposed to the CRU as part of the Council’s wider community relations programme.

    The CRU then agreed to fund this initiative, as part of a group of initiatives proposed by the Council, to the tune of 75% funding, with Council meeting the remaining 25% of costs.

    The CRU spokesman pointed out that it is up to the respective Councils to make proposals, with CRU involvement limited to agreeing or rejecting application for funding.

    This therefore puts the onus back on the Council. Clearly they have breached their own Equality scheme in failing to conduct an equality impact assessment, as Lisburn Council found out last year.

  • fair_deal

    1. A pilot initiative doesn’t need to be equality proofed nor does each individual funding decision of a public body, EIA’s apply to policy decisions only.
    2. This idea has been floating about for a while and I am with willis I think its a good one. Also I see the usual nationalist reaction, damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Constant complaints about “too many” and paramilitary flags and the harm to community relations these cause. The complaints are taken on board and something done about it. The nationalist response, more complaints. Meanwhile they cover sections of the country with terrorist iconography claiming “It isn’t sectarian because we did it”.
    3. As regards the republican parade it should be allowed to go ahead.

    CD

    The Antrim Guardian link does not go to the story you mention.

    Your figures on the number of parades in randalstown are incorrect. Unfortunately the search facility on the PC website has a few quirks.

    If you type randalstown into the search engine you get 29 parades so far in 2006. One of those is an AOH parade and the other St Patrick’s Accordion, is an independent band (AFAIK). Leaving 27 notified parades, unfortunately the database has multiple entries for the same parades e.g. the same 1st of July parade by Sons of Ulster Flute Band appears 4 times. If you remove those double entries that leaves 21 notified parades. Among those are parades by ballylurgan and caddy lodges/rbp, these are rural lodges who don’t parade in the town, bringing the total down to 18.

    The events you include as Loyalist include
    2 parades by the British legion
    2 parades by Randalstown Arches Association (the local cross community group)
    1 event by Randalstown running club
    1 event by East Antrim Old Vehicle Club
    1 event by Randalstown Parent and Toddlers
    1 parade by the boys brigade.

    This reduces the number of “loyalist” parades to 10 most of which are the local lodges on the key dates 12 July, 12 August, Black Staurday and their church parades. There has only been one loyalist band parade in April.

    Also the parade in september event is being organised by the local branch of Cancer Research NI. Raising money for cancer sufferers how sectarian of them?!?

  • lib2016

    fair_deal,

    Please, please tell us that loyalists aren’t hiding behind ‘Cancer Research’ to have a provocative march.

    If it’s in a non-controversial area then fine by me and I would suspect most others, but if it is in an area where it will cause distress to the locals then words cannot describe…..!

  • fair_deal

    lib2016

    It was CD who had defined the event as a loyalist parade and I just double-checked it refers to 30 particpants not bands.

    Parades for charity fund-raising are quite common in North Antrim/Londonderry area.

  • lib2016

    It’s never a good sign when people avoid the question. We all know how a few loyalists insisting on marching through nationalist areas has a history of provoking the death of innocents at regular intervals over the last two hundred years.

    Is this a provocative march or a genuine attempt at raising money for charity? Perhaps a fairer test would be to ask what sort of policing will be required and at who’s expense?

  • fair_deal

    lib2016

    This is what information I have on the event in randalstown in september that CD classified as a Loyalist parade so save the conspiracy theories.

    http://www.paradescommission.org/parades/Parade.cfm?id=16802

  • Chris Donnelly

    FD

    Fair point on the number of loyalist parades in Randalstown, which I will update on the post soon. It still doesn’t take away from the point that, in this majority nationalist town, upwards of 10 loyalist parades will have taken place in 2006, yet loyalists in the town are threatening ‘mayhem’ if even one republican parade takes place.

    However, you are wrong in that, as far as I know, the Council is in breach of its equality scheme as the decision was clearly taken to provide funding for this initiative with the allocation of rate payer’s money.

    On the second point, I take it then that you would be supportive of Council’s erecting the Irish national flag in majority nationalist areas- which in Antrim Council, would include Crumlin, Toome and even Randalstown itself, not to mention a number of housing estates in Antrim?

  • unionist

    Chris
    You really should research your topic more

    as FD points out the number of parades is misleading since a number of these relate to individual lodges walking into town on for example the 12th morning. a couple of church services easily account for the rest.

    your second and third points are contradictory either the council provided money to a local group for this initiative or the council erected the flagpoles. In fact it would appear to be the former although no decision on funding has been taken by council and yes under the equality scheme they may have to fund similar schems in nationalist areas.

    Since the council did not erect the flagpoles they are not responsible for them and any action should be directed at ofmdfm who funded 75% of the costs in this case.

    Also whats the difference between this project and the governments re-imaging communities initiative.

  • unionist

    also just looked at the figures the dup dont control the council

  • Belfast Gonzo

    The DUP have the most seats, 6, but don’t have a majority and therefore don’t ‘control’ the council in the sense I’d use the phrase. In Ballymena next door, the DUP has more seats than the others combined, so it is a “DUP-controlled” council. But not Antrim, although it could be described as ‘unionist-controlled’.

    Pete’s having the evening off.

    :o)

  • Chris Donnelly

    “…as FD points out the number of parades is misleading since a number of these relate to individual lodges walking into town on for example the 12th morning. a couple of church services easily account for the rest.”

    Unionist
    First point has been addressed (re numbers) but whether or not the lodges are walking into the town or holding a ‘church service’, it’s still a parade.

    Also, by virtue of the fact Council funded 25% of this particular initiative they clearly paid towards erection of the flagpoles and flags.

  • Nevin

    Aren’t the terms ‘loyalist’ and ‘republican’ now mainly used locally as shorthand for the respective paramilitary fraternities?

  • Dec

    Is this a provocative march or a genuine attempt at raising money for charity? Perhaps a fairer test would be to ask what sort of policing will be required and at who’s expense?

    I don’t think you can cast any doubt on Loyalism’s motives in holding ‘charity’ marches where raising money is the only motive. Remember that march for Tsunami Relief (scroll down) ?

    Money Raised: £500
    Costs to taxpayer in policing: £29,444

  • unionist

    according to local journos the local sf reps have no problem with the project other than the fact that the local community needs to be clearly seen to deliver it as a community project not a council initiative. hence apparently according to journos present at a planning committee meeting on thursday all was sweetness and light between dups and sf.

    fly in the ointment is third shinner who wasnt at meeting you is using daily ireland and council business to raise her profile in advance of any future assembly election.

    am told journos expect sf locally to slap her wrists for stirring the pot.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Unionist

    I hope you don’t use the same sources to get your racing tips.

    The local Sinn Fein councillors- all three- were quite rightly enraged at the actions of Antrim Council; I know, because I’ve spoken directly with two of them and been told what the third one thinks- a position made very clear to council officials by the two councillors present.

    Perhaps your journo sources should stick to the local papers…….

    As for Sinn Fein ‘slapping the wrist’ of a councillor onjecting to ratepayer money being used to raise the union flag, does that not strike you as bizarre?

  • Comrade Stalin

    As for Sinn Fein ‘slapping the wrist’ of a councillor onjecting to ratepayer money being used to raise the union flag, does that not strike you as bizarre?

    Actually Chris, I’d say it is consistent with Sinn Fein’s behaviour lately. For example it was reported on Slugger back a few months ago that SF members were expressly told they were not to be present at the FAIR parade through O’Connell St in Dublin.

    Not that I’m complaining – they’re trying to keep the “agitation” to a minimum to try to get power sharing moving. I wonder how long they’ll be able to do it, though.

  • Still Waters

    Never mind what the SF reps said to you Chris – what did they say at the planning meeting? Did they launch a spirited attack? Or did they sit there in silence? Why did the DUP defer the application and not SF?