Roads minister challenged to remove bypass flags

August 17, 2010

By Brónagh Murphy

The Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy, has called for a review of the multi-agency Protocol on Flags after loyalist flags were erected on a section of the recently-opened Newry bypass.

Mr Murphy says his department does not currently have the legal power to remove the flags, which have been described by some as offensive and are harming business in the city.

The Protocol on Flags was launched in 2005 to deal with complaints from members of the public or elected representatives, particularly when the flag flying or painting is on main routes that are used by all of the community.  It rules that the agency in the most effective position to consult, negotiate or resolve the situation, should take the lead, however Mr Murphy says this isn’t ‘robust enough’.

“The current procedures are outdated and need to be reviewed by all partner Agencies and Departments,” he said.

“Roads Service carries out its role within the powers and resources available to it.  Roads Service will, when called upon by the lead Agency, provide the access equipment and resources to remove unwanted flags, once agreement has been reached that they should be taken down.”

SDLP MLA, Dominic Bradley says Mr Murphy should take the lead on this issue.

“Minister Conor Murphy can’t keep dodging this issue.  Every year his department removes many thousands of illegal advertising signs from roads, but just a handful of illegal flags,” Mr Bradley said.

“It is not a question of being one-sided. He should order Roads Service to remove all illegal flags from Departmental property regardless of who erects them.”

Mr Bradley says the loyalist flags erected on the Newry bypass are hurting business.

“The flags on the bypass, erected by people with access to ‘cherry-picker’ hoists, are a huge ‘keep out’ sign which will not help Newry.  Let there be no doubt that this sort of territorial marking does direct harm, especially in the eyes of southern shoppers and holiday-makers.”

Sinn Féin MLA Mickey Brady says the flags are a “great disservice” to the community and “designed to cause offence”.

“The new section of motorway from Beechill to Cloughoge has reduced travelling times greatly and as a result, trade potential between both jurisdictions has risen to an unprecedented level.

“It would appear that the people erecting these flags want to mark their territory and I fear this could have a negative effect on those travelling north from Newry, be it for business or leisure reasons.

“Those erecting these flags on the motorway are actually doing their own communities a great disservice by presenting this as an expression of their culture.  In the main it is designed to mark out territory and cause offence.”