PROPOSALS to fly the union flag at Limavady council offices were voted down by Sinn Féin and SDLP councillors, who questioned the timing of the motion. Meanwhile, a small crowd of protestors gathered outside the building.
BY NIALL DEENEY
UUP Councillor Edwin Stevenson submitted a motion last night to fly the union flag on designated days from council-owned buildings in Limavady, where it has not been flown at all since 2004.
An amendment was proposed to councillor Stevenson’s motion by DUP councillor George Robinson, who suggested flying the union flag all year round.
Neither suggestions looked likely to pass in the nationalist-controlled council council, and were duly voted down by the six Sinn Féin and three SDLP representatives present.
Two DUP councillors, George and Alan Robinson, voted in favour of flying the flag all year round, while UUP councillors Jack Rankin and Edwin Stevenson voted in favour of flying the flag outside the building on designated days, as did TUV councillor Boyd Douglas.
Meanwhile, approximately a dozen young people staged a peaceful protest outside the front of the building, carrying union flags.
Edwin Stevenson, the man behind the proposals to fly the union flag at council buildings, addressed the council chamber: “To me, the flag is what I believe in, it represents my identity.” Calling for the flag to be put back where it was until a few years ago, he said: “More flags have been flown in this town in the last few years than ever before.
His party colleague Jack Rankin seconded the proposals and after speaking emotionally about seeing his son “shot dead at the door”, said: “I don’t condone what has gone on in Belfast, but there is a very strong feeling and a very strong feeling in Limavady. I am 100 per cent behind what Edwin has said.”
SDLP councillor Michael Coyle warned that it was irresponsible to bring forward a proposal to put the union flag back up amidst ongoing violent disorder in other parts of Northern Ireland, threats to politicians and the vandalism of political offices including an SDLP office in Limavady.
Referring to violent demonstrators, he said: “No-one can convice me that these are sane and reasonable people, law abiding people.”
He continued: “This is like trying to put out a fire by throwing a gallon of petrol on it. The union flag will not make unionists or loyalists more British, the tricolour will not make nationalists or republicans any more Irish. Time and energy would be better spent embracing our differences. Violence is not the answer to anything.
“The bullet and the bomb have brought little to advance any case. They have brought great sorrow. We heard that from Alderman Jack. Do we want to bring that back? We are in grave danger of going back to those sad and frightening times.” The local SDLP man added: “Let’s not ram our own culture down each other’s throats.”
Sinn Féin councillor Anne Brolly, who was Mayor of Limavady when the decision to remove all union flags from the council building was taken, said: “We have to remember this is not a government building – it belongs to the rate-payers. It belongs to Catholic, Protestant, Jew and dissenter. To the Polish person, to everyone.”
TUV councillor Boyd Douglas gave his own view: “Since the Belfast Agreement Sinn Féin Ministers seem to have pursued their own ‘greening’ agenda. Protestants, Unionists and Loyalists have seen an erosion of their own identity.
“I don’t remember one motion that has been put forward by unionists that has been voted for by nationalists. There’s lots of things I could say but it would be falling on deaf ears.”
Sinn Féin councillor Sean McGlinchey attacked unionists in the chamber for “neglecting the ordinary, working class people.” He said: “There’s a group of young people on a network and they have found them (unionist politicians) out. They have nothing to offer. They are exposed now and they are running for cover.”
When the proposals were brought forward, voting followed an unsurprising pattern. Two DUP councillors, with party colleague James McCorkell absent through illness, voted in favour of flying the flag all year round. Six Sinn Féin and three SDLP councillors voted against.
Two UUP councillors and one TUV councillor voted for a return to Limavady’s previous policy of flying the flag outside the building on designated days. Six Sinn Féin and three SDLP councillors voted against.