Politicians across the divide have united in their condemnation of the erection of paramilitary flags in Larne.
Flags representing illegal loyalist organisations have appeared on lampposts in parts of the town in recent weeks – a development which has been decried by local councillors across the board.
The proliferation of these flags has caused such a stir that Larne’s Mid and East Antrim unionist councillors felt compelled to issue a cross-party statement, in which they described the development as “retrograde and deeply worrying”.
The statement from the DUP, UUP and TUV added: “This is not a legitimate display of culture or tradition, and does nothing for the image of the borough or its economic prospects.
“We support the proper flying of our national flag- the Union Flag, as well as the display of traditional Orange symbols on the Twelfth parade route, but we would appeal to those who put the paramilitary flags up to take them down again.
“We stress that we are not arguing against the erection of flags but that we want to see the flags which have been put up replaced with Union flags, Ulster banners and Orange standards which would be fitting for the town during the Twelfth celebrations.
“We also make clear that we repudiate the actions of the PSNI in South Belfast where they have removed legitimate flags which celebrated the culture and identity of the community. This foolish behaviour has helped create this situation.”
Meanwhile, PUP representative Jonathan Hodge said it is important to distinguish between flags which are historical and commemorative and those which are not.
He added: “Any flags that have the name of the UVF or YCV are either dated 1912, or relate to specific battles or events during the Great War.
“When the issue of those flags which are not commemorative or historical has been dealt with, then we will be in a better position to discuss other flags that have been erected around the town.
“It is important that a consensus is developed around the flying of flags that recognises the rights of loyalists to celebrate their culture and commemorate important events.”
Mayor of Larne, SDLP Councillor Martin Wilson told the Times: “People have been working hard to make Larne a more friendly place for everyone and this development is not conducive to that.
“However, condemnation alone will not solve this problem; there needs to be dialogue. We need to find out what grievance these people have which led to these flags being put up.”
Sinn Fein MLA for east Antrim, Oliver McMullan said the erection of these flags was creating “an atmosphere of intimidation”.
He also claimed the situation was causing “economic difficulties” for traders in the town centre, adding: “The area is gaining a reputation of intolerance and traders are suffering as people decide to shop elsewhere.”
Alliance Councillor Gerardine Mulvenna added: “The erection of these flags flies in the face of recent attempts to try and create a shared and inclusive space in Larne.”