St Patrick’s Day flag row rages

A WAR of words has erupted over the erection of Tricolours and UVF flags in Cookstown last week.

Unionists and Nationalists have clashed over the St Patrick’s Day decorations which lined the route of last Thursday’s parade.

The Chairman of Cookstown District Council John McNamee said the majority of Cookstown people are from a Nationalist background and were to happy to see the Tricolour flags in the town.

He told the MID: “These Tricolour flags and bunting were erected because it was St Patrick’s Day and the Irish flag is a symbol of our Nationality.

“It has been confirmed with me that the flags will be taken down this week.

“We put up them up to help create a carnival atmosphere and the majority of people living in Cookstown are from a Nationalist background so I don’t understand why there has been so much controversy over them.

“There are UVF flags flying from lamp posts all over the Old Town area of Cookstown, I always thought that the main street would be flag free but people within the Unionist community continue to put up these offensive flags.

“They may claim it’s a memorial flag because there is a date on it, but people lost their lives at the hands of the UVF and members of victim’s families will not want to see these.

“People are intimated by these flags and I don’t see why these flags are flying in Cookstown’s streets.

“The day after the Tricolour bunting was put up throughout the town, a massive Union Jack and the red and white Cross of St Patrick appeared on lamp posts, which was clearly in response to the Tricolours.

“The people who are complaining about the flags we put up are just Loyalists who can’t respect the Irish culture.

“I have no doubt though that members from the Orange Order are happy enough to see these flags up for the week.

“No one was under any illusion of what we were doing when we were making the St Patrick’s Day preparations.

“At the end of the day they know the flags were going to be put up and I think that Loyalists were involved in the erection of the UVF flags but not the Orange Order.”

However, local Ulster Unionist representative Trevor Wilson said, “Flags are a contentious issue and are best solved by working within the local community.

“The issue this time with the Tricolours in the town centre is the fact that they were erected by an organisation - the AoH - while the Orange Order did not erect any flags over the twelfth.

“Work is going on behind the scenes to get the issue solved and I believe this can be only done by dialogue from the local community.”

Ciaran McElhone a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians Cookstown Division said the majority of Protestant people enjoyed the parade: “The flags will be taken down this week.

“They were not put up to antagonise anyone and it’s only an issue when people make an issue out of it.

“I think the people who put up the huge Union Jack and the St Patrick flags the day before the parade can’t tolerate any celebrations from the Nationalist community.

“I was speaking to Protestant people on the day and they told me that the parades were brilliant.

“There was only a small minority of people who wanted to intimate people who came down with their cameras. It’s intelligence gathering on the people that were taking part in the parade.

“We have been very forthcoming from the start.

“We were there to celebrate and not intimidate and this is the first time in four years that we have put up these flags, so it’s not like we do it every year.”

A spokesperson for the PSNI said: “Cookstown was the venue for a major St Patrick’s Day celebration last week and a number of flags were erected in the town centre in advance of the event. Our understanding is that they are to be removed shortly after the event.

“The flying of flags is a popular way of displaying tradition and culture in Northern Ireland, but it is also an emotive issue and we would urge local groups and individuals to consider the interests and feelings of everyone in the community when erecting any flags.

“In recent months, local communities and police have worked together to bring about the removal of contentious flags in some areas of Cookstown. We encourage and welcome these initiatives.”