Prince Philip: Unionist claims ‘disrespect’ as four councils decline to fly Union Flag at half mast

Concerns have been raised about “disrespect” being shown to unionists as it emerged that four councils across the west of the Province are declining to fly the Union Flag at half mast to mark the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 5:38 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 5:44 pm
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive at Hillsborough Castle on June 23, 2014.. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

On Friday Buckingham Palace confirmed the death of Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, at the age of 99.

Derry City and Strabane, Newry Mourne and Down, Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and Omagh councils all confirmed today that they will not be flying the Union Flag at half mast to mark his passing, despite the request from some unionists for them to make an exception.

Many local authorities in Northern Ireland follow the Flags Regulations which align the designated days for flag flying at Government buildings with the rest of the UK. The regulations say the Union Flag should be flown at half mast following the death of a member of the royal family, or of a serving or former UK prime minister.

The flag at Belfast city hall flies at half mast to mark the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh

However the four councils which will not be flying the flag at half mast said today that they all have strict and long standing policies of not flying flags of any type.

By contrast, the other seven councils are all aligning with wider UK policy as a sign of respect.

The pattern emerged after a Dungannon DUP councillor raised concerns that his local authority - Mid Ulster District Council - had declined his request to fly the Union Flag.

Labelling the decision a “damning indictment of Mid Ulster District Council’” Councillor Clement Cuthbertson warned it could do “irreparable damage” to relations throughout the district.

While it has been confirmed the Union Flag will fly at half-mast at parliament buildings, Stormont, until after Prince Philip’s funeral, a spokesperson for Mid Ulster District Council confirmed that despite requests from the district’s residents, the same policy will not be applied at Mid Ulster’s civic buildings.

The spokesperson also confirmed there are no plans to hold a special meeting of Council following the Palace’s announcement.

“While we have received requests to fly flags at half-mast, the Council currently has a ‘no flags’ policy and so does not fly flags on any occasion,” said the Council spokesperson.

“There are no plans to hold a special meeting at this time.”

Councillor Clement Cuthbertson said the “narrow minded decision” is “disrespectful” to both the people of Mid Ulster and the Royal Family.

“I believe the failure to fly the Union Flag as a mark of respect to HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is a damning indictment of Mid Ulster District Council,” said Cllr Cuthbertson.

“In my opinion Council is sending a disrespectful message to the Royal Family and one that will do irreparable damage to already fragile good relations across the district.”

Fellow mid Ulster District Council UUP Councillor Trevor Wilson said he had called on Sinn Fein to “reverse its decision” not to fly the Union Flag at half-mast at the local authority.

Mr Wilson said there has been “a wave of sympathy and sadness” across the UK after the prince’s death, and that the Mid-Ulster council area has been no exception.

“The Union Flag is flying at half-mast at Stormont and much has been made of comments of condolence by the Sinn Fein leadership,” he said. “It is a great pity that such sentiments have not permeated down to Sinn Fein in Mid-Ulster, where that party has refused to allow the Union Flag to be flown at half- mast on our Council buildings.”

“I fully understand that the Council has a policy of no flags, but this can be set aside in exceptional circumstances.”

He said the situation was “particularly hard to take” given Sinn Fein’s approach to Covid rules at the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey last June.

Sinn Fein said that it has been the policy of Mid Ulster Council not to fly any flags since the Council’s creation in 2015.

TUV East Londonderry spokesperson Jordan Armstrong said he contacted his local council, Derry and Strabane, requesting that they would fly the Union Flag at half-mast on all civic buildings.

“This suggestion was dismissed after less than two hours of the email being received,” he said.

“While Nationalists were happy to mouth platitudes for the cameras in Stormont on Monday at council level there is a telling lack of evidence of reaching out to those who want to see our local council appropriately mark what is a time of national mourning.”

“Those who claim that Unionists have nothing to fear from being a tiny minority in a united Ireland and that their culture and identity would be respected have once again been reminded that when Nationalists have the majority there is precious little evidence of the respect they so loudly demand.”

The SDLP was also invited to comment but has not done so at the time of going to press.

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