Public property damage ‘has to end’

People involved in erecting “sectarian flags” on lamp posts or responsible for defacing kerbstones, road signs or any other public property “to satisfy their insatiable appetite for bigotry” should be charged with criminal damage.

That’s the view of SDLP MLA John Dallat, who earlier this year spoke out after Union flags were erected outside his constituency office in Limavady.

“The SDLP has always advocated a policy which does not permit the use of street lights and the property of public utilities to be used to display symbols of division and sectarianism,” said MLA Dallat.

“The most cursory glance at the proliferation of flags on public display on lamp posts clearly shows that these are not there to promote any kind of cultural identify but are specifically aimed at carving up territory for the express purpose of creating division and disharmony,” he said.

Mr. Dallat says rather than spending millions of pound of public money “accommodating tribalism and sectarianism” the Assembly must become “assertive in how public space is protected from freeloaders who want to use it to satisfy their insatiable appetite for bigotry”.

After what he termed “the scandals” he called for the introduction of legislation which “makes it a criminal offence to engage in sectarian and racist acts”.

“Anyone defacing public property, be it road signs, kerbstones or anything else which has been provided by the taxpayers and ratepayers should be charged with criminal damage. Simple,” said Mr. Dallat, adding: “The loss in business to businesses in our towns and villages has been horrendous but the damage to community relations and bridge building cannot be quantified. It has to end but that calls for courage which has been sadly lacking.”

A Roads Service spokesperson said: “In dealing with flags, the Department works within the Joint Protocol on the Display of Flags in Public Places. The number of flags removed in any year depends mainly on the level of requests for Roads Service assistance by the lead partners in the flags protocol.

“Currently, the PSNI respond to issues where there is a concern for public safety or where it believes a criminal offence has been committed.

“Our experience has been that removing flags in the absence of widespread support across the community simply worsens the situation. Also we have to take account of the risks to our workers in removing flags where agreement has not been reached.”