26 April 2006

Agreement helps defuse flags tension

Daily Ireland

Apprentice Boys’ commitment

By Connla Young

Tensions in a Co Antrim town were defused last night after an understanding was reached over the flying of nationalist and loyalist flags.
Daily Ireland first revealed last week that a number of Tricolours and loyalists flags erected throughout Ballymena had resulted in rising tensions in the town.
As part of a arrangement brokered late yesterday, members of the Apprentice Boys gave a commitment to remove a number of contentious loyalist flags erected last week around Our Lady’s Catholic Church in Harryville.
The church has been the scene of two loyalist blockades in the past decade. The flags around the building were expected to be removed last night.
A number of nationalist flags, including Tricolours and a starry plough, had been erected in the town’s Cushendall Road district but were removed by republicans on Monday night.
It is not yet clear if a batch of fresh loyalist flags erected in Ballymena on Tuesday night were included in the understanding reached yesterday.
Daily Ireland has learned that agreement on the vexed issue was scuppered last week after the Ulster Defence Association instructed the Apprentice Boys not to remove flags erected last week.
Sources close to the negotiations that led to yesterday’s understanding say further work is required before the flags issue will have been resolved totally.
“It’s still a work in progress and there is still work to be done. It’s an ongoing work, and mediators have been given the space and time to get the issue sorted,” said one source.
Ballymena republican spokesman Paddy Murray welcomed the flags compromise.
“Common sense has prevailed and all flags are being removed. If they want to talk about other flags, we are open to negotiations. We would prefer that there were no flags flying from lampposts anywhere. That’s what we will be working towards in the future,” he said.
Onlookers feared that the latest flag controversy to hit Ballymena had the potential to sink a historic deal brokered between nationalists and loyalists last year. Under the deal, loyalists promised to remove graffiti, flags and a UDA mural from around Our Lady’s Church in Harryville.
A loyalist mural in the area was replaced last month by an Ulster Scots mural.

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