Derry City & Strabane District Council has adopted a motion demanding the Department for Infrastructure take down Paramilitary Flags and banners from its property.
But objections were raised because the resolution did not explicitly mention ‘Soldier F’ and Parachute Regiment flags.
Some councillors also expressed reservations about the wording of the motion, arguing it could have the unintended consequence of prompting DfI to take action against placards erected by local political organisations, businesses or charities.
At the monthly meeting of Council on Thursday Independent Gary Donnelly objected to the adoption of a motion proposed by Sinn Féin and amended by the SDLP at the Governance & Strategic Planning Committee in early July. It had resolved that Council express support for Belfast City Council in its legal action to force DfI to remove “all Paramilitary Flags without planning permission on DfI property, unless permission is granted by DfI with protocols that protect citizens” and “all banners without planning permission on DfI property, unless permission is granted with protocols that protect citizens.”
Colr. Donnelly said: “On the way to this meeting today I passed a number of banners in and around the Bogside. One was for a local pub. There was one for a charity and there was one for a museum...I would just have concerns what the repercussions for these are if this goes through.”
People Before Profit’s Eamonn McCann agreed: “On the face of it it would seem to mean that we would hand over control to a government department of what banners and placards we can put up in particular locations. That seems to me to be a very serious proposal indeed. The right of assembly is a civil right.”
But Sinn Féin’s Councillor Christopher Jackson replied: “We are not asking for permission. We are challenging DfI to take action against flags and banners that are causing division and hurt and offending people throughout our Council district and across the entire North.”
SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly said: “DfI does act already on items that are placed on their street infrastructure: items advertising small businesses, advertising events that are taking place, etcetera.”
He went on: “At the Caw roundabout we have a banner that was advertising a concert that was taking place in our city and district and on the same lamppost we have flags for the Parachute Regiment and the department under its own operational duties at the moment will take down a sign relating to an event but they won’t touch the flag that is there to create offence.”
People Before Profit’s Shaun Harkin sought to amend the motion to specifically focus on Parachute Regiment flags but SDLP Colr. Martin Reilly objected because it removed all reference to Paramilitary Flags.
“The text that was there at G&SP was a better, all-encompassing text. Regardless of the background, anything that was put on a lamppost to create offence should be removed,” said Colr. Reilly.
DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock said: “There are many who would say they are exercising their right to show support for ‘Soldier F.’ There will be different views within this chamber but others will see this as people exercising their rights.”
Colr. Harkin’s amendment fell having failed to garner support from Sinn Féin and the SDLP who were backing the original motion.
It was then proposed, however, by Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher, seconded by Colr. Donnelly, that the Council choose not to adopt the G&SP motion.
Colr. Reilly remarked: “Colr. Gallagher and Colr. Donnelly would then not have this Council take any action in relation to taking down Paramilitary Flags or flags in support of ‘Soldier F’. That’s the outworking of the motion they are now putting before the floor.”
Colr. Donnelly reacted angrily to this: “I don’t know what Colr. Reilly has been doing for the last twenty minutes. Colr. Harkin put a motion up there that dealt solely with ‘Soldier F’ flags and I voted for it. He voted against it. For him to come in here now and say that I’m happy to have ‘Soldier F’ flags. Did he fall asleep? I’ve outlined already why I have problems with this item when it says all banners without permission.”
But Colr. Reilly was adamant: “It is clear the outworking of the proposal is that the Council will not do anything.”
The original motion was ultimately approved.