Flags ‘tension’ in Ballymena: Police chief says ‘most effective solution is ‘community resolution with engagement between communities working with local agencies’

A POLICE chief says the most effective solution to issues surrounding the erection of flags in Ballymena is “community resolution with engagement between local communities working with local agencies”.

A number of Irish Tricolour flags erected in recent days in the north end of the town were removed on Thursday night.

The Ballymena & Districts Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) Facebook page said it was believed members of the loyalist community took the flags down.

Flags had gone up near All Saints Church and also at the Ecos Roundabout.

It is believed to be the first time such flags were ever displayed at those locations.

Earlier this week North Antrim MLA and leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, Jim Allister, said the flags were designed to “raise tensions”.

A number of Irish Tricolours have been flying at Cushendall Road roundabout for several weeks and nearby at the Cushendall Road there are black flags and pictures of Hunger Strikers who died in 1981.

The Ballymena & Districts UPRG Facebook page said it had received a message saying “a group of loyalists got together tonight (Thursday) and removed the foreign flags or Irish republican flags from the Chapel roundabout, Ecos roundabout and Dunclug roundabout.

“We hope this will stop the intimidation of our communities who live at that end of the town. We hope this will calm the high tension that these flags were causing.”

In a statement to ‘Ballymena Daily’ on Friday, PSNI Superintendent Darrin Jones said police are aware that a number of flags were erected in the north end of Ballymena “and had been subsequently removed last night”.

He added: “Across the year and across many communities in Northern Ireland local people erect flags, banners and other symbols relating to cultural identity, political issues and support for particular views which may be contested by others in the community.

“In many cases these symbols will cause offence to one community but may not be in themselves illegal. The flying of any flag or banner should be carried out with the consent of the person or organisation who owns the street furniture or property on which the item is flown or displayed.

“While the removal of such items is not the responsibility of the Police Service of Northern Ireland we are committed to working with communities and partners to build a safe and inclusive society.

“Where we receive reports of banners or flags being erected, we will attend to ascertain proof of permission for erecting a banner or flag and gather evidence in the event that any offence is committed.

“We will then pass details to the relevant land or property owner who will decide on the appropriate course of action which may include the matter being reported for prosecution.”

He said police “will act to support the removal” of flags or banners by those who have responsibility for a structure on which the item is displayed.

The police chief added: “We will only consider removing such items ourselves where there is an imminent and immediate likelihood of a breach of the peace.

“The most effective solution to these issues is community resolution with engagement between local communities working with local agencies and resulting in local decision-making.

“We will continue to work with communities and partners to find lasting solutions, however, police action on its own is not sufficient.”

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