Northern Ireland

Police to meet groups over UVF flags in east Belfast

UVF flag
Image caption The flags were erected in east Belfast at the weekend

The police are to meet community and political representatives over concerns about Ulster Volunteer Force flags in east Belfast.

A group of men stopped and directed traffic on the Belmont Road on Sunday as the flags were erected.

The Alliance Party and some residents have objected.

The flags have been hung on lampposts along a number of roads ahead of a parade to mark the centenary of the formation of the UVF.

In a statement, police said they were aware that flags were being erected in east Belfast in relation "to the 1913 commemoration parade taking place next Saturday".

They said the flags were being erected along the route of the parade and "were not related to a proscribed organisation".

They added that senior police officers would be meeting with community and political representatives together with parade organisers early this week to "address any concerns".

"Parade organisers have given their assurances that these flags will be removed immediately following next Saturday's parade," the statement said.

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Media captionAlliance Party assembly member, Chris Lyttle, said he had been contacted by residents

Alliance Party assembly member, Chris Lyttle, said he had been contacted by residents in east Belfast who were angry at the erection of the flags "along key arterial routes, without consultation or notification".

He said it was his understanding that 600 UVF 1913 and union flags had been ordered to be erected on lampposts in east Belfast ahead of next weekend's parade.

"People are not objecting to dignified commemoration of historic events or indeed the respectful display of flags and emblems, but many people and those include people with relatives that were volunteers in the 36th Ulster Division during World War One, perceive the erection of flags without consultation and in some cases with masked identity to be intimidating and bad for community relations," he added.

"This is a reality and a voice that must be heard."

Mr Lyttle said the incident demonstrated the "urgent need" for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to accept their "statutory responsibility along with the PSNI, agencies and political parties to comprehensively address the appropriate use of all flags and emblems".

The original Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was established in 1913 to fight against Home Rule in Ireland.

In 1914, a major gun smuggling operation was organised to equip the UVF. The operation involved smuggling almost 25,000 rifles and five million rounds of ammunition from Germany.

Many of those UVF men joined the 36th Ulster Division of the British Army and died in large numbers during the battle of the Somme in July 1916.

In 1966, a loyalist paramilitary group adopted the name and symbols of the original UVF.

According to the book Lost Lives, the UVF and an affiliate group, the Red Hand Commando, killed 547 people, between 1966 and 1999. The organisation was responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Troubles.