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Disbelief after Infrastructure Minister admits no unauthorised flags removed from NI streets over last five years

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Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd was answering a question from Alliance North Down MLA Connie Egan.

He stated that with the exception of “a few banners which presented a danger to road users”, no flags had been removed from street furniture in the period, despite it being an offence to attach them to structures such as lampposts.

Ms Egan, Deputy Chair of the Assembly’s Executive Office Committee, said the ongoing failure to remove unauthorised flags and emblems, particularly those in breach of the Terrorism Act, cannot be allowed to continue.

Connie Egan

“Unfortunately the Department for Infrastructure’s response to my question demonstrates the ongoing failure of the authorities to confront the placement of unauthorised and unwanted flags on public property. This is plainly illegal and is dealt with properly in neighbouring jurisdictions,” she said.

“This is hard to believe, especially as there is now a specific reporting system with a dedicated phone number.

“Many of the flags reported will be those glorifying so-called paramilitary groups in defiance of the Terrorism Act 2000. We cannot continue to have entire communities held to ransom in this way.

“When the Department talks about a unified approach, it should not be difficult for the First and deputy First Minister to agree one which ensures the defacing of public property in contravention of that Act is dealt with swiftly.”

Fellow Alliance MLA and Executive Office Committee Chair Paula Bradshaw MLA said public sentiment wanted such flags removed.

“People are fed up with entire areas being defaced for months at a time by flags and emblems being placed without authorisation on public property,” she said.

“We are long past time for action on the placement in particular of symbols contrary to the Terrorism Act.

“We expect to see the First and deputy First Minister leading on this issue. They will be aware if they do not, it is our intention to pursue a Private Member’s Bill to ensure the interests of the law-abiding majority across the community who want nothing to do with such symbolism are rightly prioritised.”

In his answer, Mr O’Dowd said that Article 87 of the Roads (NI) Order 1993 makes it an offence to attach unauthorised signs or advertisements to structures such as lamp posts.

“One of my Department’s primary considerations is the safety of the public and where unauthorised flags or attachments pose a risk to road users, my Department will seek to remove that hazard,” he added.

“Where there is no such danger, my Department will liaise closely with other key stakeholders and seek to provide a solution.

“With the exception of a few banners which presented danger to road users, my Department has not removed any flags from street furniture in the last five years.

“Finding a sustainable solution to the ongoing problem of illegally erected flags and emblems requires leadership and a united approach. I can assure you that I am committed to working with Executive colleagues and all stakeholders to deal with this issue comprehensively.”

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