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Flying of loyalist flags ‘doing damage to tourism’
A SINN Fein MLA has claimed the “sea of flags” erected in Enniskillen town centre every year for the Twelfth holiday season, including paramilitary flags, damages the local tourism industry and hospitality sector.
Phil Flanagan accused those who erect loyalist and Union flags of creating a “loyalist ghetto” in the heart of Enniskillen town shopping centre.
He called for all flags to be flown in a respected and dignified manner and that flags used to mark or claim ‘territory’ should not be accepted.
As the run up to the Twelfth holidays get underway, lamp -posts at Gaol Square and Wellington Road in Enniskillen town centre are traditionally bedecked with Union flags, Northern Ireland flags and UVF flags.
While the flying of flags in mixed areas is not illegal, the act of erecting them could be considered as a breach of the peace. It is still unclear who bears the responsibility of removing contentious flags with both the PSNI and the Department of Regional Development (DRD) stating that flags will only be removed if there is a concern for public safety or where a criminal offence has been committed.
A spokesman for the DRD said that risks posed to staff members in removing flags where an agreement has not been reached will have to be taken into account.
Mr Flanagan also stated that the flying of these contentious flags fails to reflect the good community relations in Enniskillen.
“Flying flags to intimidate members of another community or to mark out or claim territory for one section of the community is not an acceptable policy in this day and age,” he added.
“Fermanagh is a very different place to Belfast in that the levels of sectarianism are much lower and people from all backgrounds work very well and get on together.
“Fermanagh is very well known as a destination for visitors and I know that the first impression many people have upon reaching parts of Enniskillen when they witness a sea of flags is of a loyalist ghetto.
“This does not paint a pretty, or indeed accurate picture of the actual situation.”
Fermanagh’s chief Orangeman Stuart Broker also called for all flags to be flown “appropriately, correctly and respectively” in the run-up to the Twelfth celebrations.
However, the County Grand Master disagreed that flags are traditionally flown in the town’s main shopping streets stating that flags usually appear in residential areas.
“Flags do go up in areas outside the town and estates,” he added.
“They go up on both sides of the divide. It’s a difficult issue dealing with flags in residential areas because it happens on both sides of the community.
“I think everyone would agree that flags should be flown appropriately, correctly and respectively on both sides of the community, at the right time and at the right place.”
A spokesman for the PSNI added: “The removal of flags is not the responsibility of the PSNI and police can only act to remove flags where there are substantial risks to public safety.
“We accept that this can lead to the perception of differing approaches in different areas, but this is the essence of local community resolutions in the absence of a wider consensus.”