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Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK

Special Report

Council under fire over flag flying

A row has erupted about the flags policy of a local council

A unionist dominated council in Northern Ireland is under fire for contravening fair employment guidelines by flying an Orange Order flag outside its offices.

The Fair Employment Commission wants Castlereagh Borough Council to explain why it is breaching the guidelines on providing a neutral working environment.

It is understood that an Orange Order flag was flown in July and that a flag for the Royal Black Preceptory is flying during August.

The council approved this practice in 1992 but the Fair Employment Commission has only recently been made aware of the flags.

The Commission has branded the flying of such flags outside council offices as "totally unacceptable".

[ image: Sir Bob Cooper: practice is
Sir Bob Cooper: practice is "unacceptable"
Commission chairman Sir Bob Cooper said that the practice contravened the Council's own commitment on fair employment.

He said he hoped the council would adapt an FEC suggestion to resolve the matter.

"We are determined that it is unacceptable to have flags like this flying from a public place, the headquarters of a council which has a duty to welcome people from all communities," he said.

Flags commemorate Somme battle

A former Ulster Unionist mayor of Castlereagh, John Beattie said the flags are flown as a mark of respect to those who died during the Battle of the Somme.

"Many of the Ulster Regiment who fought at the Somme went 'over the top' wearing Orange sashes", he said.

He added that the area in which the flags are flown has many street names commemorating the battle.

"I don't think they're flown to provoke or antagonise," he said.

The FEC's stance has also been supported by the senior SDLP talks negotiator, Sean Farren.

"I call on the council to abide by the FEC's decision to have the emblems in question removed forthwith", he said.

The Progressive Unionist Party has said the flying of the loyal order flags "could be judged as an affront to the Roman Catholic citizens of the borough".

PUP 'apologists' slammed

Alliance Community Relations spokesperson Eileen Bell welcomed the PUP statement but accused the party of having double standards.

"In my own area of North Down and across Northern Ireland, PUP representatives act as apologists for the illegal flying of flags," she said.

"They treat residents and public representatives with utter contempt and disdain.

"Indeed, many of the most offensive flags on display across Northern Ireland are those of the UVF. When are these flags coming down?"

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