The curious incident of the City Hall and its flag-related security breach

City Hall with Union flag flying over itAround tea time on the 11 July, a bizarre story came to light.

A man had found by security in the City Hall overnight, and allowed to leave the building, claiming (according to UTV) “he had been locked in at a function”. It was later noticed – some reports say by a tourist during the day – that the City Hall’s flag/flag pole was damaged.

By the next morning – the Twelfth – the Union flag was flying from a central flag pole over the City Hall.

However, a councillor yesterday suggested that there were many questions to be answered around the security breach.

  • How did the intruder get access to the City Hall?
  • Why did the City Hall’s overnight security staff release the intruder without informing the police (or taking details to be able to identify the man)?
  • Was the incident picked up by the City Hall’s CCTV?
  • Why was there no subsequent security sweep of the building to discover if the intruder had left anything more sinister than a damaged flag/flag pole behind?

UTV further explained:

A police spokesperson said: “Police have received a report this afternoon [11 July] from Belfast City Council regarding the alleged theft of a union flag overnight.”

No-one has been arrested over the incident and police say they are liaising with the city council.

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  • The flag was seen being waved at Orangemen & Supporters from Nationalists in the Short Strand yesterday evening.

    Did someone leave their keys lying around

  • JackCade

    Some eirgi ones managed somehow to get in and change the flag to an iraqi one when George Bush paid a visit a while back. Maybe they know something about it?

  • Idle speculation jj, did it have Property of City Hall on it ? Paranoid!

  • JR

    Can I just say Alan that I think your coverage of the 12th overall has been excellent. From the bonfires right through to the marching. Well done.

  • keano10

    I find this story hilarious to be honest. Who is this intrepid dude? Cult hero status awaits him and the promise of many’s a free pint in the years to come…

  • pippakin

    A job for Inspector Clouseau or possibly Yates of the Yard.

  • oracle

    Keano

    Why do you assume the person was a Nationalist.. there is no proof whatsoever (at the moment) that this person was.

    It could well have been a drunken orangeman who just wanted a bigger flag than usual to wave

  • JackCade – True – but éirígí are normally very quick to claim responsibility for their ‘stunts’ – and no press release has been issued (unless they’re closed for the Twelfth)

    JR – Thanks.

  • oracle

    Alan,

    ” Why was there no subsequent security sweep of the building to discover if the intruder had left anything more sinister than a damaged flag/flag pole behind?”

    Well if someone was going to leave something more sinister behind it is incredulous if not ridiculous to think that after leaving something more sinister behind (pipe-bomb time-bomb booby-trap device) that they’d suddenly decide leaving a bomb at the SF offices in City Hall wasn’t sufficient that they’d have to make their way to the roof-top to steal a flag.

  • Did anyone hear a dog barking?

  • keano10

    Oracle,

    I do like the occasional bet and as a gambling man I would wager that the odds on a giant symbolic Union Jack being stolen from the roof of the City Hall by a Loyalist are perhaps a little on the thin side…:) (that is even allowing for my pitiful gambling history).

    The fact that he did so while apparently heavily intoxicated is surely just a little bit amusing? It seems he was so drunk that he eventually fell asleep following his intrepid adventure and was rumbled by Security Staff on their nightly stroll.

    I dont actually care who he was.

    Legend… 🙂

  • USA

    Why is it there in the first place? I thought there was supposed to be a workplace free of flags, symbols and emblems…or some such thing?
    I guess that matter is still not sorted. What is the law?

  • Brian

    USA-yes, but it is City Hall. A flag of the country the city is located in is certainly appropriate at City Hall. That is certainly one place where I don’t have a problem with that flag flying.

    Now, about those other 1000s of flags that were out and about the other day…

  • dwatch

    “Why is it there in the first place?”

    Because Northern Ireland is part of the UK . The Union Flag is the UK’s national flag like US citizens are allowed to fly the American flag freely on flagpoles in the US.

    City Hall To Let U.s. Flag Fly Freely On Sidewalks
    http://articles.nydailynews.com/1998-07-14/news/18086195_1_american-flag-first-amendment-maintenance-fee

  • Trapattoni

    The flag was seen being waved at Orangemen & Supporters from Nationalists in the Short Strand yesterday evening.

    Did someone leave their keys lying around

    You’re sailing pretty close to the wind there jj, you seem to be finding it harder and harder to stop the mask from slipping these days.

  • USA

    dwatch,

    Your example is unhelpful and weak. You should take a page from Brian’s book.

    Firstly, the US flag is a unifying symbol for the vast majority of the US population. It is an agreed symbol, unlike the situation you have over there where British and Irish national flags are not respected.

    Secondly, the article you linked to is from 1998. It’s 13 years old.

    Thirdly, the US store owner was erecting a flagpole on a footpath (sidewalk). So he was required to”pay a $750 fee for a 10-year permit to erect a flagpole on the sidewalk and a $500 annual maintenance fee.” Not unreasonable IMHO. Beats that heck out of flags flying free from every lamppost in Belfast.

    Thirdly, the article goes on to mention that the matter “raises serious constitutional questions,” said First Amendment attorney Richard Emery.

    Finally, they go on to say ““If the store is in a certain ethnic or cultural neighborhood, we want to be able to recognize the traditions in that neighborhood.” .
    Well, NI is one big “ethnic neighborhood” where you should show respect for both traditions.

    The example you offer simply does not fit. You are clutching at straws. Your position seems very weak to me. You can say it as many times as you like dwatch, but you will make no progress when trying to force your world view down other peoples throats. The version of Britishness that the ethnic Irish see exhibited in the North on a daily basis is not one that appeals to them at all.
    Mutual respect is your only man, mutual respect.

  • lamhdearg

    keano. As an insider, can you divulge any street talk about the attack on Mr henry, to keep if legal put “a source said” before the juicy bits ala the sunday world.

  • dwatch

    “You can say it as many times as you like dwatch, but you will make no progress when trying to force your world view down other peoples throats.”

    USA, Say what as many times as I like?????????????

  • lamhdearg

    “he had been locked in at a function”. who run the function, was there a list of Guests, are these the same security men that the press (well the silly paper) reported letting in a top provo (no names no pack drill) and his pals from ardoyne, free to a concert at custom house square,will we get answers to questions like these?, or has it all been brushed under the carpet already.

  • dwatch

    “Mutual respect is your only man, mutual respect.”

    USA, the Belfast City Hall council has 51 councillors, a majority of them (ITS CALLED DEMOCRACY) voted to fly the Union Flag on the City Hall, were is the mutual respect coming from those who keep harping on about it must come down?

  • keano10

    Lamh Dearg,

    Are you drinking or something??? How the hell would I know anything about that?? You are taking this ‘street talk’ scenario way too far mate…

  • orly

    USA,

    Stop talking pish.

    It’s the national flag and should be flown. Anyone who disagrees – their problem to deal with.

  • grandimarkey

    “a majority of them (ITS CALLED DEMOCRACY) voted to fly the Union Flag on the City Hall, were is the mutual respect coming from those who keep harping on about it must come down?”

    So if a majority now vote for it not to be flown, that’d be grand?

  • Dearbhla

    When was the last time there wa a vote on this issue?? During the Ulster Says No campaign???????????????

  • lamhdearg

    dearbhla,
    one would think that if S.F. thought they would carry the majority on this issue, then would be calling and getting a vote on it.

  • USA

    dwatch,
    There you go again buddy with dubious argruements.
    For example, is city hall a “govt” building, or just a “local’ building. This seems to play into the equation.

    Belfast City Hall council has 51 councillors, a majority of them (ITS CALLED DEMOCRACY) voted to fly the Union Flag on the City Hall,
    Care to provide a link to this “vote”.
    FYI, there are now 24 nationalist city councillors on Belfast, 20 unionist, 6 Alliance and 1 independent. So it seems from your current position that if the nationalists voted to ban the British flag, you would be okay with that. Any other position on your part would be hyprocacy.

    I don’t think adopting an absolutist position is at all helpful to unionism, and by extension wider society.

    Orly,
    Half the population have allegiance to a different national flag. You cannot change that, so best to accomodate everyone for the benefit of everyone. Anything different will simply lead to confrontation rather than co-operation.

    The same goes for republicanism.

  • USA

    Sorry for the spelling errors, it’s very late over here.

  • dwatch

    USA, Republicans have as much hope of banning the Union flag from flying over City Hall Belfast as Native Americans have of banning the US flag flying over City Hall, New York City. Or majority Catholic Northern Ireland citizens have of voting for a United Ireland.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-13815069

  • Jack2

    joeCanuck (profile) says:
    13 July 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Did anyone hear a dog barking?

    —————-

    Do think anyone else got this Joe 🙂

  • USA

    dwatch,
    To extrapolate too much from the NILT survey would be folly. It’s flaws have been discussed at length on other threads.

    Native Americans? Jesus, another flawed analogy! Don’t even know where to start with that one.
    How about you try to elucidate a coherent position regarding Ulster and we can talk about the native Americans at a later date.

    Republicans have as much hope of banning the Union flag from flying over City Hall Belfast
    But surely that flies in the face of your definition of “DEMOCRACY”. What if the nationalist majority in Belfast City Hall voted to take it down. After all the legislation is probably already in place. Good for the goose etc….
    This is why you should seek to find common ground with your neighbors rather than adopting absolutist positions that can only lead to conflict. If you do not find common ground with SF they will continue to force matters to their logical conclusion as they feel they must push for equality and mutual respect for both traditions. They rightly feel their Irishness is as valid as your Britishness.

  • lamhdearg

    USA
    “What if the nationalist majority in Belfast City Hall voted to take it down.” surly you mean what if A nationlist majority, as at the moment there is none.

  • ayeYerMa

    Anyone like USA claiming nonsense such as the Union Flag being “divisive” or “offensive” when flown in a respectful way such as on City Hall need only be pointed to this pie chart:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1d/NILT2010_FUTURE2_pie_unionjack.png

    Only 0.5% can be truly “offended”, extending up to 9% if you are very very generous (doubt that many of the “could live with it” group are actually “offended” either).

    Anyone also saying nonsense such as “To extrapolate too much from the NILT survey would be folly” need to then be pointed to the following graph which analyses NILT data in more depths than previous NILT graphs posted on Slugger:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/64/NILT_FUTURE2_unionjack.png

    The picture is EXACTLY the same over 12 years of surveying. Never from ANY survey over 12 years could you ever claim that at any time more than 10% could claim to be “offended” (probably barely more than that 0.5% though). The data is just far too consistent to be dismissed (much more consistent than most of the other NILT trends).

  • USA

    ayeYerMa,
    The NILT survey is of limited use. You however, have managed to use it in such a way that it is of no use whatsoever. 0.5% of the population are offended (by the British flag)? Wow…and you mined that gem from the NILT?
    Grow up.

    Lambderg,
    I can only guess that you are including Alliance in with the Unionists. I choose not to do so, I do not regard Alliance as a Unionist party.

  • dwatch

    Lambderg, “I can only guess that you are including Alliance in with the Unionists. I choose not to do so, I do not regard Alliance as a Unionist party.”

    USA, neither does the alliance party but when it comes to election time alliance party candidates only successfully win seats in predominately Unionist protestant areas East of the Bann.

    When it comes to issues (like flying a Union flag on the City Hall) alliance councillors either vote with the Unionists or abstain. If any alliance councillor (say from East Belfast) supported SF on the flag issue he/she can say goodbye to their council seat at the next election.

  • carl marks

    Dwatch
    if you look at the councill makeup there are
    24 nationalist
    20 unionist
    6 alliance
    if all partys were to vote along trad lines and assuming alliance voted unionist then a majority of 2would result in he flag being kept, however if even 2 allaince abstained it would be a tie if all alliance abstained then the flag would come down. If present trends in elections continue then next time round nationalists will be in the majority and the flag will come down. you as a democrat will of course accept this as the will of the people.
    by the way when did the last such vote take place.

  • dwatch

    “if all partys were to vote along trad lines ”

    carl marks, IF that little or big thing that never happened.

  • carl marks

    dwatch (profile) says:
    15 July 2011 at 6:36 pm

    “if all partys were to vote along trad lines ”

    “carl marks, IF that little or big thing that never happened”

    not sure what your getting at there dwatch instead of trying to avoid the issue could you tell me if you think there any are flaws in my reasoning, and could you also answer my 2 questions.
    1 as a democrat will you accept a vote to take the flag down if most members of the chamber vote that way.
    2 when was the last vote on this matter (after all you were the one who introduced the vote into the debate)