Agenda item

Suspension of Standing Orders - Paramilitary Flags and Banners

Minutes:

Councillor Cooper Proposed, Councillor Reilly Seconded 

 

That   Standing Orders be suspended to consider a Motion passed by Belfast City Council in regards to paramilitary flags and  banners.

 

Alderman Hussey Proposed, Alderman Bresland Seconded

 

            That   A recorded vote be requested in respect of the above.

 

After a recorded vote the result was as follows:

 

For – Councillors Boyle, Cooper, Fleming, McCloskey, McGuire, McKeever, McLaughlin, Mellon and Reilly – 9; Against – Aldermen Bresland and Hussey – 2.

 

The Proposal met the qualified majority threshold and was declared carried.

 

The Chairperson then invited Councillor Cooper to address the Committee.

 

Subsequently Councillor Cooper Proposed, Councillor Reilly Seconded

 

That   this Council supports in its entirety the motion passed last night calling for Belfast City Council to take legal action against the Department for Infrastructure, enforcing them to remove:

 

1.    All Paramilitary Flags without planning permission on Department for Infrastructure property, unless permission is granted by the Department for Infrastructure  with protocols that protect citizens; and

 

2.    All banners without planning permission on Department for Infrastructure property, unless permission is granted with protocols that protect citizens.

 

This Council also notes that any legal obligations placed on the Department resulting from this legal action will be binding across all Council areas in the six counties.

 

Councillor Cooper said the Motion was calling for Derry City and Strabane District Council to fully support the Motion passed at Belfast City Council the previous evening rather than requesting Council to take similar legal action.  The reason for this was that it was understood that any resulting policy decision taken by the Department of Infrastructure would set a precedent across the six counties which would also remove the need for local ratepayers’ money to be spent in taking a similar case.

 

Councillor Cooper stated that Loyalist paramilitary flags and banners supporting the British Parachute Regiment had been erected throughout the City and District in recent weeks and clearly were being used to cause division, offend and cause hurt.  This had brought particular anguish to the families of those killed and injured on Bloody Sunday – given that many of these banners expressed support for ‘Soldier F’ who was currently facing murder charges.  He stated that many of these flags and banners were attached to lampposts which were the property of the Department for Infrastructure.  So far, they had failed to take action to remove them hence the proposing of the Motion to Belfast City Council by Councillor Ciaran Beattie to ensure that the Department was legally compelled to take action.

 

Councillor Cooper pointed out that a number of private discussions and initiatives had been undertaken locally in recent weeks to create an opportunity for the banners to be removed in an effort to de-escalate the situation.  Unfortunately these efforts had not been successful and left the Party as a whole with no option but to consider what legal avenues were available to remove the banners which had caused so much hurt and offence.

 

Councillor Cooper said he was aware that amendments were proposed against the Sinn Fein Motion at Belfast City Council which simply called for the Council to condemn the flying of the Soldier F banners and calling for their removal.  Unfortunately none of these Motions would have led to any obligation on the Department for Infrastructure to take action.  He said at this stage it was clear that some form of practical action was required to ensure the banners were removed where possible which was why the Motion to Belfast City Council was vital.  He stated that additionally the British Ministry of Defence and the Parachute Regiment did not endorse these flags or banners and had stated that they should only be displayed in certain circumstances.

 

Councillor Cooped pointed out that Sinn Fein and others in the Nationalist community had been proactive in the recent past in ensuring that the burning of poppy wreaths on bonfires and other offensive actions had been prevented.  He said the wording of the Motion passed the previous evening also called for all paramilitary flags to be removed from Department for Infrastructure lamp posts so that citizens from all communities were not exposed to emblems representing division. 

 

Councillor Cooper said he therefore hoped that Unionist representatives in the Chamber would show similar leadership by supporting the Motion.

 

Councillor Reilly welcomed representatives of the Bloody Sunday families who were seated in the public gallery to the meeting.  He stated that this was a matter of such concern to them and all those who had lost loved ones on Bloody Sunday and also those injured on that day.

 

Councillor Reilly stated that all flags which intended to be divisive and cause hurt and paramilitary symbols were wrong and ultimately were illegal as they had no permission to be flown on public infrastructure.  He stated that just in the same way if such items were placed in public buildings then a government department would take them down, so why had no similar action been taken by the Department of Infrastructure on public street furniture.  He continued that Belfast SDLP Councillor Carl Whyte who spoke on the motion the previous evening outlined the legal rationale for why such flags were illegal.

 

Councillor Reilly stated that when similar items were erected in Nationalist areas, the SDLP along with others actively worked to have them removed.  He said offensive placards in the City centre had been erected to cause hurt and divisiveness and he called on those to be removed as well.  He stated that earlier that morning SDLP Councillor Malachy Quinn did this in his area following IRA graffiti in Stewardstown.  He said his Party condemned the actions carried out to private property in Newbuildings and had always called on respect to be shown to poppy wreaths in the Diamond.

 

Councillor Reilly concluded that this issue had been raised privately in other meetings such as PCSP and felt that DfI needed to uphold the law.  The Department routinely took action against local businesses advertising on their public street furniture so why not uphold the law when considering paramilitary flags and items designed to offend.  He said his Party also felt that Council had relevant powers that could be used.

 

Alderman Warke expressed his opposition to the Motion and stated that whilst no-one should be above the law, people should be allowed to demonstrate for those who served in very difficult circumstances.  He stated that ninety per cent of the deaths which had occurred during ‘the troubles’ caused by illegal terrorist organisations but there was no proper mechanism in place to investigate such crimes.  He continued that the Motion raised tensions at this time of year when so much time was spent trying to resolve this issue.

 

Alderman Devenney criticised the tabling of such a Motion at this time stating that it was ruthless when emotions were already so intense. He referred to flags causing division and hurt were displayed in the Council-owned City Cemetery and in the Nationalist Bogside and Creggan areas of the City.

 

Alderman Hussey expressed his opposition to the Motion stressing that it would open a ‘Pandora’s Box’ and could undo all the excellent work which was being carried out throughout the City and District on the issue of flags and emblems.  He expressed concern that there would be serious repercussions resulting therefrom. 

 

Councillor McCloskey expressed her support for the Motion stating that to oppose the Motion would appear to be supporting something which was illegal.

 

The following Amendment was then Proposed by Councillor Reilly and Seconded by Councillor J Boyle

 

That   this Council supports in its entirety the motion passed last night calling for Belfast City Council to take legal action against the Department for Infrastructure, enforcing them to remove:

 

1.    All Paramilitary Flags without planning permission on Department for Infrastructure property, unless permission is granted by the Department for Infrastructure with protocols that protect citizens; and

 

2.    All banners without planning permission on Department for Infrastructure property, unless permission is granted with protocols that protect citizens.

 

This Council also notes that any legal obligations placed on the Department resulting from this legal action will be binding across all Council areas in the six counties.  In the meantime Council considers what action it can take under the Clean Neighbourhood Act 2011.

 

After voting on the Amendment by a show of hands the result was as follows:

 

For – 9; Against - 2; Abstentions – 0.  The Amendment was therefore carried and became the Substantive Motion.

 

That   this Council supports in its entirety the motion passed last night calling for Belfast City Council to take legal action against the Department for Infrastructure, enforcing them to remove:

 

1.    All Paramilitary Flags without planning permission on Department for Infrastructure property, unless permission is granted by the Department for Infrastructure with protocols that protect citizens; and

 

2.    All banners without planning permission on Department for Infrastructure property, unless permission is granted with protocols that protect citizens.

 

This Council also notes that any legal obligations placed on the Department resulting from this legal action will be binding across all Council areas in the six counties.  In the meantime Council considers what action it can take under the Clean Neighbourhood Act 2011.

 

After voting on the Substantive Motion by a show of hands, the result was as follows:

 

For – 9; Against – 2; Abstentions – 0. The Substantive Motion was therefore carried and the Council

 

Resolved      that this Council supports in its entirety the motion passed last night calling for Belfast City Council to take legal action against the Department for Infrastructure, enforcing them to remove:

 

1.    All Paramilitary Flags without planning permission on Department for Infrastructure property, unless permission is granted by the Department for Infrastructure with protocols that protect citizens; and

 

2.    All banners without planning permission on Department for Infrastructure property, unless permission is granted with protocols that protect citizens.

 

This Council also notes that any legal obligations placed on the Department resulting from this legal action will be binding across all Council areas in the six counties.  In the meantime Council considers what action it can take under the Clean Neighbourhood Act 2011.