CALLS have been made for unionist leaders in Omagh to use their influence to help secure the removal a series of loyalist flags adorning one of the town’s busiest thoroughfares.
Around two dozen flags have flown at the Crevenagh Road roundabout since the end of June. While the vast majority of flags and bunting erected for the Twelfth demonstration in Omagh this year have been removed, the flags at the roundabout remain.
In a statement to the Ulster Herald, a spokesperson for the Orange Order said its district in Omagh was not responsible for erecting the flags. “All flags and bunting erected for the Twelfth, which were the responsibility of the district, have been removed,” it said.
Calling for neutrality to be restored at the junction, which links Belfast and Dublin traffic to the North West, Sinn Féin MLA Barry McElduff has called on local unionist leaders to intervene.
Branding the flags as “immature” and “tacky”, the Assembly member said they were creating “a chill factor” in Omagh.
“Worryingly it acts as a disincentive for people to stop, shop and socialise,” he claimed.
“It’s important to respect a flag and not to use it as a method of marking out territory for one section of the community.
“That is what is being done at the Crevenagh Road roundabout,” he added.
Confusion reigns over who is responsible for removing contentious flags. In recent weeks the PSNI took the significant step of removing union flags from a mixed area of South Belfast, classing the erection of the flags as a breach of the peace.
The Department of Regional Development, who own the street lights from which the flags fly, have remained reluctant to tackle the issue.
“The PSNI and DRD state that flags will only be removed if there is concern for public safety, or where a criminal offence has been committed,” said Mr McElduff.
“But really what you are depending on then is common sense, good will and a gesture towards community relations by unionist organisations and leaders.
“They can identify within their community which organisation put them up and they can approach them to take them down,” stated the MLA, who said he plans to write to local unionist leaders along with the PSNI and DRD.
Mr McElduff said the flags did not reflect the good relations that exist in Omagh.
“If there was a proliferation of tricolours, then there would be a duty on political leaders in the nationalist and republican community to do something about it. But there isn’t a proliferation of Irish national flags, because we do have a much better approach.
“Nationalists and republicans are more confident in our identity and we have a much better approach to our national flag, which is to fly it respectfully when appropriate,” he added.