No flags will be allowed to fly from the new Mid Ulster Council properties after controversial interim arrangements were passed at the council’s April monthly meeting.
The issue had been brought back to the council chamber to be decided by a simple majority vote following legal advice sought by the council executive.
However, there were tensions during the vote on Thursday evening, with Republican and Nationalist councillors saying that the decision was an attempt to create a neutral environment for everyone in the district, and Unionists arguing that it was an erosion of their culture and heritage.
The debate was overshadowed by the death threats made against SLDP representative Denise Mullen, who was caught up in an online storm of abuse after she made comments welcoming the council’s decision to ban political emblems.
SDLP representative Malachy Quinn warned that without democracy there would be mob-rule, referring to the threats as ‘sickening intimidation’.
He also apportioned some blame to Unionist politicians, saying: “Leadership is needed from this community but unfortunately it has been sadly lacking”.
UUP Councillor Trevor Wilson also condemned the threats and asked for them to be withdrawn.
On the flags issue, Sinn Fein Councillor Sean McGuigan said that his party felt that they were being reasonable in their proposals.
“This is simply an issue of neutrality or equality”, he said. “Either we fly two flags or we fly none.
“We believe that flying none is the best option to provide a neutral environment for everyone in the district.”
However, DUP Councillor Paul McLean challenged the proposal.
“We feel that it is not reasonable. The Unionist are in a minority in this council and we feel that our culture and heritage are being eroded.
“Unionists make up 40 percent of the council population but the number of designated days was nowhere near 40%. It is a cold house for Unionism and we are aggrieved.”
Chairperson of the council, Sinn Fein’s Linda Dillon asked the councillor did he propose that the Irish flag be flown 60 percent of the year, given that was the proportion of nationalists living in the area.
“Fair is fair for everyone. This is not a cold house for unionism. No unionist councillor should feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. This is a nonsense argument.”
UUP Councillor Walter Cuddy pointed to the previous practice of Dungannon Council which flew the flag on designated days, in spite of its nationalist majority.
“This was a very positive gesture and allowed for the smooth working of the council. All we are asking for is some form of acknowledgment.”
The decision was passed with Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors voting for and UUP and DUP councillors voting against.