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Anger as Council cuts down Union Flag pole

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Anger as Council cuts down Union Flag pole thumbnailThe barely visible remains of cut metal struts bearing the former flagpole at Magherafelt town centre traffic roundabout.

A UNION Jack flag and flagpole in Magherafelt town centre, which was cut down by Mid-Ulster District Council within 24 hours of its installation, has provoked an angry reaction.

Footage emerged on social media late on Wednesday night showing the unauthorised flag pole being cut down by council-appointed contractors using an angle grinder.

The men were wearing high-visibility jackets and the scene was being wardened by officers of the PSNI.

The clip sparked outrage from some online users, while others commended the removal of the flag.

A group calling itself the British Truth Forum had put the flag up between midnight and 1.30am on Wednesday morning and posted an image on its Facebook page showing the mast being installed.

The group's spokesperson, William Lennox, said, it was funded by victims, ex-veterans, members of the Orange Order and non-members of the Orange Order.

However the Orange Order have distanced themselves from the unauthorised installation of the flag.

A spokesperson for the Orange Order's Magherafelt District said: "The District was neither responsible for, nor sanctioned, this occurrence.

“Equally, the District did not support, or give permission, for the Union Flag to be removed in the first place."

The flag, which had been a fixture in the centre of Magherafelt for decades, was removed in October 2016 as part of a public realm scheme underway in the town. It had previously flown all year round for years until the nationalist-controlled Mid-Ulster District Council voted in May 2016 to remove it as part of the 1.9million revamp.

The Orange Order claimed it had erected a flagpole in the Diamond area of the town 65 years ago and it's removal last year angered the organisation, with unionist parties, commenting at the time that the flag's eviction from the town would make it "a cold place for unionists".

This latest incident has angered local unionists.

"The cutting down of the flag pole by a Council appointed contractor demonstrates a total disregard and lack of respect for the Union Jack, the flag of our nation," stated DUP group leader on Mid-Ulster Council, Cllr Paul McLean. 

"Once again we have witnessed the undermining and erosion of our unionist and Protestant culture by a nationalist and republican Mid-Ulster Council.

"It beggars belief that officers can mobilise to have a flag pole cut down and removed in such short a time yet, other bread and butter issues that effect the lives of our constituents take a life time to achieve."

Cllr McLean continued: "The Mid-Ulster Council is so republican motivated, that every month our unionist and British culture is being removed by majority voting and replaced with Irish culture, Irish logos Irish signage, the fleet vehicles are Irish, the bin lorries are in Irish, the street bins are Irish, the road and street names plates are in Irish.

"On all of these element the Irish language precedes our national language, English, which further demonstrates the republican agenda. We as a unionist family must double our efforts, think and work outside the box to stem this republican agenda.

"My understanding is that a local Sinn Fein Councillor was in attendance which again demonstrates that there is blatant inequality within Council, namely that a section of the councillors were informed and others were not."

Cllr McLean also called into question the "neutrality" of the local PSNI and senior Council officers leading up and the removal of the flag and flagpole.

Sandra Overend, Ulster Unionist Assembly candidate for Mid-Ulster, condemned the Council's action.

Stated Mrs Overend: "I am outraged at what is happening at The Diamond in Magherafelt. The Union Flag is the flag of the United Kingdom and it has flown at The Diamond for as long as I can remember.

“There was no need for this situation to arise in the first place. People are angry and the whole situation has been badly handled and has caused a lot of hurt in the unionist community. However despite this, I would call on people to stay calm and use cool heads.

“My colleague Councillor Trevor Wilson and I have initiated meetings with the PSNI and Council officials to ascertain the facts and will update people with them as soon as possible. We will continue to provide leadership on the ground."

Councillor Trevor Wilson, who was asked to resign as Council Chairman on the British Truth Forum's Facebook, stated: "I have said all along that the flag should never have been removed in the first place. The public are still not clear how the flag-pole was included in the original public realm scheme plans, but removed from later plans. We are asking questions around what advice was received as there seems to be a contradiction. People are rightly angry about this, but now is a time to think through what the next best steps are."

Sinn Fein party candidate, Ian Milne, commented: "As far as I'm concerned it was put there illegally in the hours of darkness. I think whoever put the flag up is going against the spirit of the shared space in Magherafelt. People should be sitting down and discussing these issues together rather than forcing it upon themselves.

"Unionism has to look at themselves and realise that there is two communities living in this area and we all have to be accommodated. As far as we're concerned its an affront to our neutrality.

"I hope there is no fallout over this incident. It's about getting a forum to discuss these things and sort it all out. That's something Sinn Fein are absolutely committed to."

Following the removal of the flag pole, a new Union flag was attached to a lamppost near the Diamond roundabout.

A post on the Facebook page "proud to be Protestant banter" said that a number of flags were erected across Cookstown and Magherafelt in protest.

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