25 April 2006

Rival flags issue returns to town


A deal was agreed on removing flags

An initiative to boost community relations in Ballymena by removing rival flags appears to be foundering.

A loyalist mural was removed outside Harryville church as part of the deal, but loyalist flags went up in the town centre on Monday night.

William Cameron of the loyalist Ulster Political Research Group said republican flags had not come down.

Republican spokesman Paddy Murray said flags erected after Apprentice Boys' flags went up were being removed.

"We are sincere and genuine about removing flags," he said.

He said that if people were "serious" all the flags should be removed from lampposts, not just on main thoroughfares but also in estates.

Mr Cameron said that republicans only started to remove their flags when loyalists started to erect more.

"It's a matter of principle," he said, adding that if republicans kept their end of the agreement the loyalist flags would be removed.

"When they have removed what they said they would in the agreement then loyalists will do the same," he added.

A UDA mural near the Church of Our Lady at Harryville in Ballymena was taken down after cross-community talks.

It was replaced by an Ulster Scots mural featuring symbols such as a shamrock and Red Hand of Ulster.

Irish tricolours were also removed from the north end of Ballymena in a deal brokered by Harryville Ulster Scots Society.

Youth workers also painted out red, white and blue paint from railings around Harryville church.

The church was the scene of loyalist protests and sporadic trouble over the past few years.

Loyalist protesters mounted a weekly picket outside the church during Saturday evening Mass between September 1996 and May 1998.

The protests were called off shortly after the Good Friday Agreement received 71% support in a referendum.

The picket was mounted because of loyalist anger over nationalist objections to a march by the Protestant Orange Order through nearby Dunloy.

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