17 February 2006

COUNCIL FLAG ROW BREWING

Ballymena News

16 February 2006

A ROW is brewing between Sinn Fein and the DUP over flags and emblems at Ballymena Council.
Ballymena Sinn Fein Councillor Monica Digney has said if the Union Jack and portrait of the Queen are to be kept in the Council chamber, a symbol of nationalist identity must be placed alongside them.
If no nationalist flags or symbols are to be displayed, said Cllr Digney, the existing flag and portrait should be removed.
DUP man Roy Gillespie has said he will resist any attempts to remove the Union Jack and the Queen's Protest, and will stand firm against what he calls 'republican stirring'.
Cllr. Gillespie who in the past fought to stop the Queen's portrait being covered in the Council chamber, said there would never be a Tri-colour flown alongside the Union Jack in the seat of local government.
Cllr Digney's comments come as the Council prepares to complete an EQIA (Equality Impact Assessment).
She said: "After my appointment to Council last year I immediately raised with the Council the issue of inequality within the Council Chamber.
"The display of a portrait of the British Queen alongside both the Union Jack and the Unionist state flag reflects the identity of the Unionist community but there is nothing in the Chamber to reflect ratepayers of a nationalist/republican persuasion.
"This Council is run using the money of ratepayers from across the entire community, not just one particular political or religious persuasion, and Council must take steps to address this. The Council must subscribe to either Equality or Neutrality when it comes to issues like this and I would expect the Council's EQIA to reflect that.
"The Council must take steps to improve its image in terms of equality and tackling the issues of flags and symbols would be an all-important first step.
"I was elected on the commitment that I would combat inequality whenever or wherever I come across it and I have already opened a case with the Equality Commission regarding this.
"Be rest assured that if Unionist Councillors are in any way found wanting in terms of resolving this issue that I will not hesitate in taking this case all the way."
Incensed, Cllr. Gillespie responded: "If the Union Jack and the Portrait of our majesty were taken down, I think the majority of people would be offended, that is my personal opinion.
"I have always stood for the flag of our nation for which so many men gave their lives. I will be totally opposing any changes."
The DUP representative was equally unimpressed by the alternative: "There is no way that we can have the tri-colour the flag of a foreign state flying in our Council chamber. Nationalists and Catholics are treated just the same as everyone else in Ballymena. They enjoy the same benefits.
"Cllr. Digney is just trying to stir up tensions like she has been doing in Ahoghill and Portglenone. She is a British subject just like me and the rest of the people living in the Borough."
The Equality Impact Assessment on Flags and Emblems is due to be completed by the end of March. The consultation documentation was issued by Ballymena Borough Council on February 6 and the closing date for responses is February 24.

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