DUP minister defends his department over Magherafelt Union flag removal

TUV leader Jim Allister "shocked and disappointed"
TUV leader Jim Allister "shocked and disappointed"
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A DUP minister has said his department had no role in the decision to remove the Union flag from Magherafelt town centre.

TUV leader Jim Allister asked Paul Givan why he as minister for the department of communities did not defend the flag.

But the minister responded pointing out it was Mid Ulster Council which was responsible for the design, public and statutory consultations of the public realm scheme.

The flagpole was put up in the town centre roundabout by the local Orange Order almost 70 years ago. It was removed a few weeks ago to allow completion of the £1.9m public realm scheme, despite an expression of "outrage" by local Orange brethren.

"This is deeply offensive to our tradition and the ethos of one of the largest community organisations within the Mid-Ulster area," they said in a statement.

Mr Allister claimed the removal of the Union flag was further evidence of Sinn Féin intolerance for anything British.

"They want to cleanse the town of manifestations of Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom and make it a cold house for Unionists," he said.

"Having flown in the town for the best part of seven decades it is a nonsense to claim that it was offensive to anyone.

"The flag pole both could and should have been facilitated by the town's public realm works. Failure to do so was no accident but design.

"Having erected the flag pole the local Orange Order should have been consulted about this matter and I understand their outrage at what has taken place.

“I am shocked and disappointed to discover that the DUP controlled department of communities wrote a blank cheque to the council covering 90% of the cost of the project with no regard to the design and content of the scheme.

“Where was the due diligence by the department on this issue? Is stripping out Union flag poles from our town centres either of no interest to or the policy of the DUP department?”

Mr Givan responded by saying Mid Ulster District Council - and formerly Magherafelt District Council - applied to his department for funding to support a public realm scheme for the regeneration of Magherafelt town centre.

"My department agreed to fund the scheme up to a maximum of 90%; however, the Mid Ulster District Council was responsible for the design, public and statutory consultations, seeking planning permission and the implementation of this scheme," he said.

"This being the case, this department had no role in the decision to remove the Union flag. Throughout the process there was significant engagement with stakeholders and the public on the appraisal, planning design and programme delivery for the scheme."