25 April 2006

Cross-community flags deal hangs in the balance

Daily Ireland

By Nevin Farrell
24/04/2006

A historic cross-community deal which saw the removal of a UDA mural overlooking Harryville Catholic church and the removal of republican flags in Ballymena was last night hanging in the balance.
Loyalists and republicans painstakingly hammered out the scheme in recent months with the help of negotiators but over the weekend the emblems deal was in turmoil.
Loyalists said they were backing out of the scheme accusing republicans of failing to honour their side of the deal.
With ongoing shuttle diplomacy in recent days failing to save the cross-community plan, loyalists issued a statement saying the deal was off because republican flags were still in place.
And loyalist community officials said the UDA mural could go back up in Harryville in place of a non-militaristic Ulster Scots mural which was unveiled a few weeks ago.
Loyalists are saying that as part of the original deal, the mural came down and red, white and blue paint was removed from around Harryville church in response to what should have been all republican flags coming down at the main Cushendall Road in north Ballymena and also in the Dunclug housing estate.
But a republican spokesman claimed the Dunclug estate flags were not part of the original deal, which he said only involved main thoroughfares and the Cushendall Road flags which they did remove.
New loyalist flags, including Apprentice Boys of Derry emblems, were erected on main roads in the Harryville area ahead of the Easter Monday Apprentice Boys’ parade in the town.
The loyalists involved in the initial deal said they were not responsible for erecting the Apprentice Boys’ parade flags and couldn’t be held accountable for them.
Republican flags were then re-erected on the main Cushendall Road which republicans said was in response to the new Harryville flags.
A loyalist spokesman, who didn’t wish to be named, but who has been closely involved in the ongoing negotiations in Ballymena, issued the following statement: “Due to the refusal of the people responsible for the flags on the Cushendall Road and Dunclug Park in Ballymena north, agreements between community groups have now come to a standstill.
“The loyalists have now begun negotiations between themselves with regard to this situation as we have been inundated with calls about the flying of the flags in Ballymena north. These complaints have come from both sides of the community.
“This deal was to take place on April 1 and the only people that stuck to the deal were the loyalists with the work taking place at Harryville chapel.
“Unfortunately, after extending the deadline on two occasions for the removal of the flags in Ballymena North the loyalists have no alternative but to cancel all deals that have previously been agreed and we will not enter into negotiations on any more deals until the removal of all flags in Ballymena North.”
Paddy Murray, a spokesman dealing with republican flags, said: “The loyalists are saying that because the new flags that went up in Harryville were put up by the Apprentice Boys that they are outside the deal.
“But that is wrong. If some other group put up flags at the Cushendall Road we would still be responsible for them.”

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