LOYALIST paramilitary flags erected outside a leisure centre in North Belfast have been condemned.

The Red Hand Commando (RHC) flags have appeared outside Valley Leisure Centre on Church Road in Newtownabbey.

They include the phrase 'Lamh Dearg Abu', a reference to the Irish phrase 'Lámh Dhearg Abú' meaning 'Red Hand forever'.

Flags featuring the Queen are visible on the same lampposts ahead of the Platinum Jubilee next month, when Queen Elizabeth II will become the first British Monarch to celebrate 70 years on the throne.


The RHC, a small loyalist grouping with close links to the UVF, was founded in 1972 and was responsible for 13 murders during the Troubles.

Amongst the killings was the 1976 murder – along with the UFF – of former Sinn Féin vice-president Máire Drumm, who was shot dead as she recovered from eye surgery in the Mater Hospital.

North Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said paramilitary flags will not be allowed to intimidate the public from shared space such as leisure centres.

Slamming those behind the flags, he said: "It is absolutely unacceptable for anyone to attempt to intimidate the public by placing paramilitary flags at the shared space of a community leisure facility.

“These flags are clearly being used to mark out territory and intimidate people using the popular Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey.

“Not only is there no place in society for these flags but those Unionist paramilitaries that the flags represent need to get off the backs of the community and go away for good.

“We are long past the time when this behaviour can be tolerated or ignored.

“The public had their voice heard at the Assembly election and rejected those that wish to drag the community back to the past.

“These offensive flags need to be removed at once and allow the large numbers of people that use the Valley Leisure Centre daily to get on with their lives free from sectarianism and intimidation.”