A number of loyalist paramilitary flags have been erected along a main route in North Belfast including outside a supermarket and at the entrance to a mixed neighbourhood. The Shore Road has seen a number of UVF flags and unions flags erected along the route into Belfast. One UVF flag is flying outside the Asda supermarket while more fly at the entrance to Fortwilliam Park, which is home to both Catholic and Protestant residents.
A loyalist Ulster flag is also flying on a lamppost close to St Mary’s Church in Greencastle.
Phil Hamilton from the Progressive Unionist Party, who last year removed all the flags from the Shore Road, said they will be removed before the end of July.
“The flags were put up for a celebration and will be down no later than the end of July,” he said. “People need also to realise that these UVF flags are historic flags, they mark the history of the old UVF and is a replica of their flag from 1912, it is not about the current UVF.”
He said the flags have been erected to mark a year of celebrations for unionists.
“We have the centenary celebration, the Balmoral review the anniversary of the Ulster Covenant and the formation of the YCV. “We have a lot happening this year and these flags are there to celebrate that.”
He said the PUP are prepared t listen to those who have objections to the flying of the flags.
“We are committed to working on the core issues, we don’t shy away from the hard questions. We know not everyone is going to agree with us,” he said.
“But these flags are there for a specific community celebration. It is not just here in North Belfast, it is in Newtownabbey, Carrick and Larne. We took a flag down from the church in Carrickfergus and we are willing to have those difficult conversations.
“We know it can be difficult and that flags can be contentious across Northern Ireland society, but we have a shared space and a shared history. I will listen to anyone who has a view on it.”
He also pointed to the erection of tricolours in Glengormley over Easter.
“Republican flags went outside the chapel on Glengormley republican flags go up all along the Whitewell Road,” he said.
When asked if he believes Catholic shoppers will feel intimidated going into the Asda store with a UVF flag outside, he said a “line” has to be drawn on where flags can and can’t be flown.
“Where do you say ‘ok you can’t have them outside schools or churches and now supermarkets, or main thoroughfares’. It is hard to know when to stop then. You have to remember these flags are put up by individuals; they can be bought in the local shops. They aren’t being bought secretly and put up by one big group.”