RAF flagpole brings drama at Limavady Borough Council

SDLP Colr. Michael Coyle
SDLP Colr. Michael Coyle

The controversial issue of flags returned to Limavady Council this week, forcing members to adjourn briefly while others left the meeting.

The disruption arose when, towards the end of Tuesday’s development services meeting, councillors were asked for a decision on a request from the RAF Association, Roe Valley branch.

In a letter, seen by the ‘Journal’, and stamped as received by Limavady Council on May 8, the Association states it is holding a parade and church service on June 2 “celebrating the 70th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Forces Association and the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 11 on this date”.

The letter asks Council to “confirm the Association’s requirement of the saluting dias for the event, and request it be positioned at roadside in front of the Council offices”, prior to 4.30pm.

“May I further request the assistance of your department in collecting a temporary flag pole from the United Services Club, transporting it and erecting it adjacent to the saluting dias,” states the letter, which goes on say the Royal Air Forces flag would then be raised on the pole just before the parade marches past and would be removed as soon as it has passed “so as not to delay your staff in the removal of the dias and the taking down again of the temporary flag pole. It’s return to the United Services Club being at your convenience.”

Initially, there was some confusion the flag in question was a Union flag, with SDLP Colr. Michael Coyle referring to difficulties in Limavady over flags.

“It’s good to see the 70th anniversary being celebrated,” he said. “In the last few months we’ve seen the difficulties that the flag situation has caused. I know people will say it’s the flag of our country, but we know it does and has caused problems in the past.”

Colr Coyle said he hoped the request wasn’t mischievous and made an amendment stating Council staff would not be involved in erecting the flag, which was seconded by Sinn Fein’s Anne Brolly. Once it was made clear it would be the RAF standard, Colr. Coyle apologised, but said he still didn’t want any flag flying outside the Council building.

Colr. Brolly said it wasn’t in the job description of Council workers to erect flags, adding: “Limavady is a disgrace with regards to the flags issue.” Colr. Brolly also stated that when elected in 2001 she had said she wanted a flag free borough, “but boy did I fail on that one, but I tried my best” .

DUP Colr. George Robinson said that he was “astounded was an understatement”, that what he was “hearing was an absolute disgrace” and Limavady Council “must be one of the most sectarian in Northern Ireland’, and claimed the matter would bring worse publicity than the Massey issue.

DUP Colr James McCorkell said he “had built up respect for Colr Coyle in the last two years”, but said his comments “and even suggesting it would cause discord ... is disappointing”.

Colr. McCorkell added: “These are elderly gentleman and they’re ratepayers, asking for help. Talk about a red flag to a bull. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I want no part of it.”

TUV Colr. Boyd Douglas made comments, referring to Colrs. Coyle and Brolly, and said since the Union flag was removed from outside Council “there had been nothing but problems”.

Colr. Douglas said the matter wouldn’t win against nationalist councillors, adding: “They talk about a shared future, but it’s only for themselves.”

UUP Colr. Jack Rankin said he was disappointed, claiming: “I know a lot of people in Limavady will be too.”

Sinn Fein Colr. Sean McGlinchey, chairing the meeting, asked if a compromise could be reached; perhaps step back and take a week to look at the matter, calmly.

Colr. Coyle said he was “not happy with some of the accusations here tonight”, but he’d be happy enough to delay a decision for a week.

Colr. Brolly reiterated her point about “our Council workers and people should not be involved in putting up flags”. She also made clear her father had fought and died in WW11, leaving her mother to raise four children under the age of seven. She said she’d made no secret the British Legion was “exceeding good to us” and “I don’t want to hear any silly accusations towards me”.

Colr George Robinson proposed members go ahead and help the Association. Further discussion followed, and councillors agreed to take a short break. After a few minutes, the DUP, SDLP, and Sinn Fein councillors - with the exception of the Mayor Cathal McLaughlin who left the meeting earlier - returned to the chamber, while those who had left were UUP councillors Jack Rankin and Edwin Stevenson. TUV Colr. Douglas had left before the adjournment.

On returning to the debate, Colr. George Robinson said “in the interests of peace” and in trying to progress the situation, he would withdraw his proposal for a week, but “very reluctantly”.

The matter is due to be discussed and decided upon next Tuesday.