Councillors call for licensing law change after sale of Para flags in Derry

Members of Derry City and Strabane Health and Community Committee have called for a change in its licensing laws to prevent the sale of ‘offensive material’ following the Apprentice Boys parade in the city when a stall sold Parachute Regiment and UVF flags.

Parachute Regiment flags. A source of contention.
Parachute Regiment flags. A source of contention.

The matter was raised by SDLP councillor Brian Tierney who called it 'morally wrong’. The Ballyarnett councillor was backed by many of the members. However, DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney fired back with claims that stalls at other events selling ‘paraphernalia’ promoting the IRA with ‘Ooh Ah up the Ra’ were also offensive.

Getting the debate underway and referring to the flags sold, councillor Tierney said: “I think it is wrong, I think they are there to mark out territory, I think they are intimidating, I think they are there to mock people and I think this council should do all it can to stop flags being flown in this council area at all times.

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“I understand the difficult sensitivities around that and I also want to point out that I am not raising this issue around the march, around unionist culture or anything like that.

“It is my understanding that this committee issued a licence to stall holders who were involved in or facilitated the Apprentice Boys of Derry march in this city only recently. One of those stalls was selling Parachute Regiment flags.

“In my view and in the view of my constituents I have spoken to across this city and district, they find it offensive, they find it wrong and they don’t want to see those types of flags or any types of flags being flown or sold around this council area.

“There’s a reason why this particular type of flag was brought to this particular city and sold and that’s wrong and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen and this council should take steps to ensure it doesn’t.”

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A council officer responded: “The licensing team will carry out a review of criteria for determining the application of temporary licences in consultation with key stakeholders including the PSNI and we will also review and develop options and bring it back into this committee including an enforcement policy.”

Asking how long the review would take, councillor Tierney added that there was very little done on the day by the PSNI to resolve the issue stating: “I think an enforcement policy should be welcomed.”

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The council official informed members the trader referred to wasn’t in breach of the terms of the licence or the legislation before stating: “There is the opportunity to review how council proceeds with these types of applications.”

Councillor Tierney said he understood and accepted there wasn’t a legal breach but there had been a moral breach.

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He continued: “I’m not suggesting that the Parachute Regiment flag is illegal but the reasoning behind I believe why it was brought to this city and sold openly on the streets of this city on that particular day was to cause hurt, to cause division and to mock the deaths of people who were killed on the streets of this city and as a council we need to do all we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney said: “Very, very clearly the Apprentice Boys have no control over who turns up and that is down to licensing.

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“I will say when we refer to flags and what’s offensive, councillor Tierney talks about the para flag being offensive in this city, when I see paraphernalia being sold in stalls promoting the IRA and 'Ooh Ah up the Ra' on the back of them, that is offensive to me so those issues have to be dealt with.

“If we are going to deal with flags, I watched the Para flag flying in the Bogside on a bonfire where poppy wreaths were burnt. We find that very, very offensive yet nobody mentioned about those flags in the Bogside at the time.”

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Pointing out the city had come ‘a long way in terms of parading’ Sinn Féin councillor Christopher Jackson said: “I’m speaking from a Waterside perspective, but growing up we were heavily impacted by the parades during the summer. The sectarian affiliations that come along with some of the parades have drastically reduced and I think it's only right we acknowledge that and that we have come a long way.

“On the morning of August 12 this year, very early on we were alerted to the stall that was selling offensive material including Parachute Regiment flags and UVF flags and personally I made a formal complaint to the PSNI and there was quite a lot done on that day.

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“There were a lot of challenging conversations about that particular stall and when we made the official complaint to the PSNI we were quickly instructed that the PSNI had gone along to the stall and removed the offensive material and they presented a file to the PPS.

“I suppose why I alluded to the progress we have made in terms of parading in our city, is this particular stall is a reminder that there are people out there willing to drag us back and we as a council can’t be seen to facilitate that. If there is anything we can do to stamp out blatant sectarianism, if we can stamp out any attempts to raise tensions then that is something we as a party would support.”

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Aontú councillor Emmet Doyle also made a complaint to the police on the day and has since submitted a motion to Full Council on the matter.

He commented: “It’s not for us in this council to tell people what their views are but it is very important for us to ensure that whoever comes into this city for whatever reason doesn't seek to provoke or hurt.”

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Agreeing a lot has been done in the city and district to promote good relations and council should put in place its own licensing agreements, Alliance councillor Rachael Ferguson added: “If it’s offensive it shouldn’t be sold and then that’s a legislative issue we should tackle”.

Echoing most of the previous comments, SDLP councillor Rory Farrell said: “I don’t think any right thinking person would believe the sale of a Para flag or UVF flag in this city is acceptable."

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He added: “We granted a licence to that trader who sold those items which are grossly offensive to the vast majority of the people in this city. Do we have the power to say, 'no you cannot sell those items?'"

The council officer responded: “That will be covered as part of the review and that will link closely with the PSNI in terms of what powers they have and what powers are available under the Street Trading Licensing.”

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As the debate came to a close, councillor Tierney commented: “It sounds like it’s ok to offend as long as you're offending two sides equally and that’s wrong. It’s not ok to offend people.”

He added: “There is a difference in doing something that is legally sound and morally sound and in my view the sale of that flag and the UVF flag is morally wrong.

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“Alderman Devenney talked about 'Ooh Ah up the Ra'. That’s as offensive to me as it is to him. I don’t like to see that either and I don’t think we should see it and if there is anything we can do to stop people from saying it or painting it on walls, the SDLP have not been found wanting in trying to resolve that issue."