Tricolour flags have been erected in Coleraine in a bid to stoke up tensions ahead of a loyalist parade in the town, it has been claimed.
PUP Councillor Russell Watton claimed the PSNI “stood back and watched” as the perpetrators put the flags on lampposts in the Waterside area of the town last night around 8.30pm. Republican flags have also appeared in the Killowen and Heights areas of the town.
Around 35 bands are expected to march in the town tomorrow at a parade organised by the Ulster Protestant Boys.
Cllr Watton told the News Letter: “This is a deliberately provocative act designed to stir up tensions ahead of this parade. This gang of drug dealers, some of them wearing scarfs round their faces, put these up last night in full view of police.
“People are fed up with this. One minute this gang is putting up flags, the next they are peddling drugs.
“The flags in the estate don’t bother me as much, but they have now expanded into the Waterside.
“One way or another, those flags will be removed before that parade. There is no way they would be marching past those, there would be a riot.”
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said: “For some time there has been a small number of people engaging in anti social activities in a nearby estate. On this occasion some of the flags have been erected on the Bridge at the town centre, this could potentially cause a breach of the peace as there are a number of festivities and celebrations over the weekend in Coleraine town centre.”
The DUP MP added: “Some nationalists and republicans repeatedly call for St Patrick’s Day to be celebrated by a wider section of the community so hopefully they will take steps to get these flags removed and reduce tensions.
“The police need to take steps in conjunction with more responsible people within the community to ensure that a Breach of the Peace does not occur as tensions are rising already in the Town.”
SDLP MLA John Dallat said: “Flags can be used for good or evil. The flags of the RNLI and HM Coastguard have been flying at half mast as a mark of respect for those four crew members who lost their lives this week, which is deeply appreciated.
“However, these flags in Coleraine are not about solidarity of the sharing of the feast of St Patrick collectively. They are the opposite side of the coin. When different flags proliferate the environment at various times of the year, it conveys the notion that this is a divided society, when in fact much has been done to heal the hurts of the past.”
Mr Dallat added: “When flags are deemed appropriate they should be erected in the morning and taken down that night, otherwise those who put them up are simple sowing disrespect. That goes for all flags.”
Police confirmed they had been made aware of the erection of the flags and were taking steps to find a solution.
PSNI Inspector Colin Reeves said: “Police received a number of reports about the erection of flags in the Waterside area of Coleraine on the evening of Wednesday, March 15/Thursday March 16.
“Officers continue to work closely with community representatives to resolve the issues associated with flags in the area and find acceptable solutions.”