Northern Ireland

East Belfast UVF flags 'still fly despite assurances'

UVF flag
Image caption The flags were erected in east Belfast

Assurances that hundreds of Ulster Volunteer Force flags erected for a centenary parade in east Belfast would be taken down have not been kept.

The flags were put up to mark the centenary of the foundation of the UVF.

Police initially said after the flags went up that they had been assured they would be taken down immediately after a parade on Saturday 20 April.

On Sunday 14 April, a group of men stopped and directed traffic on the Belmont Road as the flags were erected.

The Alliance party and some residents objected.

The police replied that the flags were put up for the 1913 commemoration and "were not related to a proscribed organisation".

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

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Media captionChris Lyttle said the issue was causing confusion

Four days ago the PSNI issued a statement of clarification.

It said: "We've been advised by the parade organisers that they will endeavour to take down all the flags associated with Saturday's parade in east Belfast as soon as possible."

The organisers of the centenary parade said they were not responsible for the flags on the Belmont Road.

John Stevenson, a member of the centenary parade committee, said: "The flags on the Belmont Road and various areas south of the route now belong to the community.

"They actually paid for them, they assisted in putting them up.

"We gave assurances that we would take the flags down that we were responsible for. We kept to that assurance last night in the bitter cold."

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said the issue was causing confusion and concern in the community.

Image caption Chris Lyttle said the issue was causing confusion

"It is my understanding that some of the flags have been removed. I imagine that people who support dignified cultural expression and would have concerns about the display of flags on street furniture will welcome that move.

"However, given that the flags have not been taken down in some areas, I think that is further evidence for the need for the first and deputy first minister, the PSNI and Roads Service to come together and put in place a flags protocol that allows people to clearly understand how flags can be displayed with respect in public."

In a letter to assembly member Judith Cochrane, the Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said the police had no specific power in dealing with flags disputes.

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.

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