SINN Fein yesterday renewed their call for a ‘flags forum’ to be established in Magherafelt to draw up and agree a flag flying protocol for the district.
It follows comments made by Ulster Unionist assembly member Sandra Overend, who hit out at the erection of Irish tricolours in Bellaghy ahead of the annual Republican Easter Rising celebrations.
Mrs Overend expressed her disgust at what she called “the intimidation by nationalists/Republicans in the village experienced over the weekend not just outside Protestant homes but on practically every lamp-post.”
The Parades Commission has given the go-ahead for two Republican parades - the largest of which will take place this in Bellaghy this Saturday evening.
Organised by the Dominic and Mary McGlinchey Memorial Committee, five bands and around 400 supporters are expected to make their way from Deerpark Road to Bellaghy Roman Catholic graveyard.
Then, on Easter Sunday, the South Derry Martyrs’ Flute Band and 100 supporters, will parade the village leaving Tamlaghduff Park around 12.30pm.
Mrs Overend said there are still a small number of Protestants living in the village and she believed they should be able to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours no matter what their religion might be.
“I actually believe that many of them do have a cordial relationship with their neighbours, but is it obvious that there is a large number who wish to continue the ethnic cleansing that has occurred in Bellaghy over the years of the troubles,” she said.
“I am disgusted that the village should be decorated in such an intimidating manner, with flags plastered from the north to the south, from the east to the west of the village, flags outside Protestant homes, at least three or four outside the controlled Primary School and a huge notice detailing their event commemorating terrorists at the entrance to the Presbyterian Manse.
“I am appalled that within the so-called peaceful future that Northern Ireland celebrates such rancid intimidation continues. Martin McGuinness, MP and MLA for this constituency talks about the shared future that the people of Northern Ireland has, but there’s nothing shared about the village of Bellaghy at the moment!
“I drove through many villages over the weekend – there are many others that I know have a majority of nationalists/Republicans residents but yet they don’t feel unwelcoming to me, if I wanted to stop in a local shop or service.
“What will Martin McGuinness do to bring about a shared future for the people of Bellaghy? Or is he only interested in flying around the world at the expense of the Northern Ireland people with only the sound bite of a shared future, not the reality of one?”
Responding to her comments, Sinn Fein leader on Magherafelt District Council Councillor Sean McPeake said it was the responsibility of those wishing to commemorate anniversaries and celebrate their cultures to do so in an appropriate and dignified manner whilst also respecting the rights and views of others.
“Comments made by Unionists recently in relation to flying of the Irish National flag in the village of Bellaghy should be seen in context,” said Councillor McPeake.
“Unionists need to understand that there are key events within the Republican calendar, such as Easter which Republicans commemorate. Whilst the erection of all national flags within the district cannot be apportioned to Sinn Féin we have for some time been advocating a `common sense` approach to the flying of flags from whatever tradition within the district.
“For many months of the year nationalists in towns such as Castledawson have to endure the constant flying of flags in mixed estates and on many main arterial routes with no consideration expressed by Unionist politicians for the sensitivities of their nationalist neighbours.
“Sinn Féin on the other hand is on record for a number of years seeking cooperation from all sections of the community for the creation of a `Flags forum` to draw up and agree a flag flying protocol for application throughout the district. Unfortunately to date the proposal has fallen on deaf ears within the sphere of Unionist/Loyalist representatives.
“An agreed solution that respects the rights of all cultures should be our collective objective. Sinn Féin stands ready and willing to play its part in creating criteria where everyone can celebrate culture and commemorate events while respecting the rights and views of those who differ from them.”
A Republican source in Bellaghy told the MAIL that the flags were put up by “a mixture” of Sinn Fein supporters and others and would be taken down in a week.