‘Intimidation’,’ hypocrisy’, ‘territory marking’, ‘threats’ and ‘sectarianism’ were just some of the words flying across the Chamber of Causeway Coast and Glens on Tuesday evening over the issue of flags.
The thorny issue had been deferred from a previous meeting and chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee Norman Hillis brought a motion to the floor proposing that the Union flag be flown at council buildings 365 days a year.
Alderman Hillis said at the outset that the motion was not tied to one Unionist party but represented all Unionist parties in CC&G Council.
The motion was seconded by Cllr James McCorkell.
Cllr Philip McGuigan said he was “disappointed but not surprised” that the motion had the support of all Unionists.
He said this was a “unique opportunity to show leadership” but added that he was “amazed” that anyone would think this was the best policy for CC&G Council.
He accused Unionists of “flexing their muscles” because they are the “dominant persuasion” in the council and of trying to “put manners on Nationalists and Republicans”
“Who thinks it is a good read to have the Union Jack flying 365 days a year in Ballycastle?,” he asked.
SDLP councillor Stephanie Quigley said that this was “a unique opportunity to lead the way” and suggested using a civic flag in order to be “pioneers of unity and peace in Northern Ireland”.
She said the motion was “going to divide us”.
She said that she had no objection to the Union flag adding that her grandfather had fought under the Union flag but, she added, that Unionists were only bringing the motion “to boundary our areas”.
Sinn Fein councillor Cara McShane said that for 42 years Moyle Council had a nationalist majority but that was never used to put up “one flag or another”.
She described the motion as being a “dark cloud” hanging over Council business and added that it was a pity that members were not discussing economic development, tourism or jobs creation.
She said that the flying of Union flags in some areas was a like a “dog urinating on a lamppost to mark its territory” - a remark which prompted outraged comments from Unionist members of the committee.
She then said that an equality impact assessment would be requested from the Chief Executive of the Council “if the motion was passed.”
Finishing, she said that if the Union flag had to be flown in a town like Ballycastle, “I ask any one of you to go in and pick up after the mess because you won’t be through the 30 mile an hour zone.”
This was greeted with calls of “threat” from Unionist members who called on the Chief Executive to take a point of order on what they saw as a threat from Cllr McShane.
Cllr Darryl Wilson said Cllr McShane had meant that none of the Unionist councillors would be “able to enter Ballycastle.”
Cllr McShane hit back saying: “I won’t be misquoted.”
She said that her remark was not a threat but meant that Unionist members would not be seen anywhere near Ballycastle to “pick up the pieces”
She then asked Unionists to “take a step back” on the motion and to think of the “long strategy” reminding them that the previous Limavady and Moyle Councils had a ‘no flags’ policy,
Sin Fein Councillor Brenda Chivers called the motion “sectarian” and said “This is not to honour your flag, this is to intimidate”.
SDLP Alderman Maura Hickey said she was realistic enough to know that the suggestion of a civic flag would not be accepted.
However, she said that she couldn’t understand why the motion was brought particularly since Limavady and Moyle both had ‘no flags’ policies.
She also said that if the motion was passed it would still have to go to full council for ratification and then said she would ask the Chief Executive for a full equality impact assessment.
DUP councillor George Duddy said he never ceased to be amazed at the “hypocrisy” of people who talk about others “shoving things down people’s throats” and calling for “common sense”.
He asked where was the common sense in naming a playpark after a terrorist?
UUP Cllr Darryl Wilson said he was “saddened” that the motion was perceived as “sectarian and divisive”. He said he found the remark about a “dog urinating on a lamppost” offensive.
“This is not about marking territory or being triumphalist but about having a balanced approach to the entire area.”
Cllr Philip McGuigan then proposed an amendment to the motion, beginning with removing the first line.
Unionists councillors challenged this, saying that direct opposition to a motion is not an amendment.
DUP Cllr James McCorkell also referred to the Limavady ‘ no flags policy saying that a flag had been flown until 11 years ago.
“It was Sinn Fein who tok the flag down in Limavady. When the flag was taken down, a flag went up on nearly every lamp post in the town and that had never happened before in Limavady.”
Referring to some Nationalist members talking about “intimidation”, Cllr McCorkell said that he and his family had been intimidated out of their Londonderry home years ago.
“We were intimidated out by a gun and a bomb not by a flag.
“The word intimidation has been bandied about here but bombing, killing and shooting is what intimidates people.”
Cllr McGuigan’s amendment was then voted on and failed.
The motion was passed:
FOR - Campbell, Duddy, McCorkell, Knight-McQuillan, Wilson, Callan, Hillis, McCandless, Blair, McKillop.
AGAINST - Chivers, McGuigan, Hickey, Quigley,Beattie, McShane.