PSNI flags move 'most significant in years' says QUB flags expert

Dr Dominic Bryan from Queen's University, Belfast, carried out a major study examining the flying of flags in Northern Ireland Dr Dominic Bryan from Queen's University, Belfast, carried out a major study examining the flying of flags in Northern Ireland

Related Stories

A police decision to clamp down on flags in a mixed area of Belfast is the "most significant" flag policy move in years, an academic expert has said.

On Thursday, the BBC revealed police are to treat the erection of loyalist flags in the Ballynafeigh area of the Ormeau Road as a breach of the peace.

It followed a meeting between the police and Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey.

The flag expert, Dr Dominic Bryan, said although the move was a "significant shift" it would be hard to enforce.

Start Quote

Years gone by, certainly people using [Irish]tricolours have been prosecuted in the past, but the idea, the possibility that the use of a union flag in various public spaces will be treated as a breach of the peace, is a significant shift”

End Quote Dr Dominic Bryan Queen's University, Belfast

The police met Mr Maskey after Sinn Féin MLA complained that PSNI officers in his constituency had "brought themselves into disrepute" by watching flags being put up in the Ballynafeigh area.

In a statement to BBC Northern Ireland's politics programme The View, a police spokesperson said tensions were "particularly heightened" by the number of flags being erected in the area.

"As a result, police have directed that any future erection of flags on this part of the Ormeau Road will be treated as a breach of the peace," they added.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said the move was a mistake and would be "impossible" to police. The Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) has also opposed the move and has asked to meet police to clarify the issue.

However, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) has said flags should not be used to "cause aggravation" and called for the new policy to be extended across Northern Ireland.

'Public spaces'

Dr Bryan, from Queen's University, Belfast, has conducted a major four-year academic project examining "the popular flying of flags in Northern Ireland" and has advised the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on the issue.

He told BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme that it would be "very difficult" for the PSNI to enforce the new south Belfast policy in a "widespread way".

"These things have to go to court and I'd say there would be a question mark as to what the case would look like going to court. However, it does show how things have moved on.

"Years gone by, certainly people using [Irish] tricolours have been prosecuted in the past, but the idea, the possibility that the use of a union flag in various public spaces will be treated as a breach of the peace, is a significant shift," Dr Bryan added.

The four-year QUB flag study was commissioned by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, in part to evaluate the government's 2005 flag policy, the Joint Protocol in Relation to Flags Flown in Public Areas.

The academic said: "I would suspect this is the most significant move probably since the protocol was first written in 2005."

"To be honest with you, there has been a bit of a stasis over that period of time around enforcement".

Flags erected in the Ballynafeigh area of south Belfast Ballynafeigh used to be a unionist stronghold in south Belfast but the latest census data has shown that 57% of the people who live there now are Catholics, while 27% are Protestant

He added: "In principle, this has always been possible, but to actually say that this would be a breach of the peace is a significant move."

'No change in policy'

A PSNI spokesman said their policy for dealing with flags had not changed.

He said: "The experience within policing shows that the approach most likely to provide for public safety and prevention of disorder is based on the principles of engagement between local communities, working with agencies including local police, and resulting in local decision-making.

"The removal of flags is not the responsibility of the PSNI and police can only act to remove flags where there are substantial risks to public safety.

He added: "This is entirely in line with existing PSNI policy and practice and does not represent any change in that policy.

"We accept that this can lead to the perception of differing approaches in different areas, but this is the essence of local community resolutions in the absence of a wider consensus."

The DUP MP for East Londonderry, Gregory Campbell, said Irish tricolour flags have been erected in other mixed areas across Northern Ireland and claimed the latest move seemed to be "solely focused on getting the union flag down".

Mr Campbell said tricolours were flying in mixed areas of his own constituency, including the Heights, Coleraine and the Glens estate in Limavady. He added he believed tricolours were erected near the former Erne Hospital in Enniskillen.

He said police were going to face problems in many other areas and described it as an "unworkable solution".

"They are going to be inundated now with people saying 'right, here is a mixed area with flags flying here, we want the same policy implemented here'. Those areas will number dozens of places," Mr Campbell said.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said: "The message to the police is you need to police this society fairly. I want to know that you're not having a two-tier system - one for loyalists and one for republicans."

Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey said officers who watched flags being put up "brought themselves into disrepute."

But Mr Maskey said the erection of flags in his constituency was "bad for the local economy and very bad for local community relations".

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said: "People should not be allowed to cause aggravation, to cause disturbance and to use the flag, whether the British national flag or otherwise, as a tribal element and an element of provocation."

Ballynafeigh used to be a unionist stronghold in south Belfast but the latest census data has shown that 57% of the people who live there now are Catholics, while 27% are Protestant.

In the same census, 36% of the population in Ballynafeigh described themselves as Irish, 32% said they were British, and 29% described themselves as Northern Irish.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Northern Ireland stories

RSS

BBC News NI Live

  1.  
    08:57: Belfast hijack PSNI

    A couple was threatened and their car hijacked in south Belfast last night.

    The car was taken from them in Orpen Road, Finaghy and found later in Poleglass.

     
  2.  
    08:45: Olympics place race: BBC Sport NI

    Belfast boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan say they are determined to qualify for the Olympics well in advance of the 2016 Games in Rio.

    Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes
     
  3.  
    08:35: Troubles mental health link: Good Morning Ulster

    Research indicates that the Troubles are directly associated with nearly half the cases of severe mental health issues in Northern Ireland.

    Mental health

    We were joined in the studio by secretary of the Commission for Victims and Survivors and Siobhan O'Neill, Ulster University's professor of mental health sciences to discuss the study.

     
  4.  
    08:25: Bishops honoured: Keiron Tourish BBC News NI

    Two retired Londonderry bishops are to receive the freedom of the city.

    Edward Daly and James Mehaffey

    Dr Edward Daly said he was honoured and that his pastoral work at the Foyle Hospice remains hugely important to him. Dr James Mehaffey said he was delighted with the award and paid glowing tribute to his wife Thelma for her love and support.

     
  5.  
    08:13: Bandsman hits back: News Letter

    A leading loyalist bandsmen who is due to speak at the Sinn Féin annual conference this weekend has hit back at critics who say he should not attend, the News Letter reports.

     
  6.  
    08:01: Cameron's 'ultimatum'

    The "ultimatum" letter issued by the Prime Minister's director of communications, Craig Oliver, says that the "leader of the DUP should be allowed to make his case for why he should be involved".

    David Cameron

    The letter says David Cameron will only participate in one debate featuring at least seven party leaders before the end of March.

     
  7.  
    07:47: McIlroy's kick: BBC Sport NI

    World number one Rory McIlroy has described his missed cut at the Honda Classic as a "kick in the backside" which will do him no harm.

    Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy was speaking in the build-up to the WGC-Cadillac Championship which starts at Doral, Miami, on Thursday.

     
  8.  
    07:38: Dry and cloudy: Angie Phillips BBC News NI Weather Presenter

    This morning it's dry, perhaps with the odd bright spell but mostly cloudy. There's the threat of patchy rain in the north and west in the afternoon - you can see the full forecast now.

    Weather collage
     
  9.  
    07:30: Stamp of peace:

    Londonderry's Peace Bridge is one of ten bridges from across the UK celebrated in a new set of stamps by the Royal Mail.

    Peace Bridge

    The Royal Mail said the stamps mark "beautiful and ground-breaking landmarks that span centuries of our history".

     
  10.  
    07:17: Slow out of Carrick BBC NI Travel
    delays
     
  11.  
    07:12: Only one debate for PM:

    David Cameron says he will take part in only one televised debate ahead of the general election, featuring seven party leaders.

    Debates

    Downing Street said the DUP should also be considered for inclusion.

     
  12.  
    07:04: Teachers could strike:

    The Irish National Teachers Organisation says a vote by its members clears the way for a possible strike.

    Teachers strike

    INTO is protesting about cutbacks that could mean up to 1,500 school jobs being cut.

     
  13.  
    07:00: Good morning Ciaran McCauley BBC News NI

    Welcome back to BBC News NI Live - we'll be with you with all the news, sport, weather and travel right through until 19:00.

     

Features

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.