Published Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Flags were erected across east Belfast ahead of a UVF memorial parade. (© UTV)
The symbols have sparked violence in recent months after a Belfast City Council decision to only fly the Union flag on 18 designated days each year.
Recently more flags were erected in east Belfast to mark the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force.
While some have already been removed, three weeks after the commemoration, others remain.
Dominic Bryan, director of the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen's University, has conducted research into the flags and said that they are being put out earlier than before.
He explained: "It has been obvious with the flag dispute and with some commemorations that the number of flags - new flags - being put up in the winter months has increased."
We do have a divided society and flags and emblems in this society cause confrontation and conflict.
Dr Dominic Bryan
Dr Bryan said the flags have also gone up in areas where they have not previously been displayed, adding that around 80% of people do not want any flags to be erected.
He said: "We also know that 60% of people believe flags are put on lamp posts by the paramilitary groups
"Whether that's true or not, people believe that flags demarcate paramilitary space. And that's not just paramilitary flags - that's the Union flag and tricolours.
"We also know that people are less likely to shop in areas where flags are flying."
He explained that although it is normal to express a political identity, those in Northern Ireland need to be aware of the problems this can cause.
Dr Bryan added: "It's also reasonable in this society to think, how can we allow people to express an identity without that identity being transformed into the management of a territorial space which can intimidate people?"
Police started to take flags down in Ballyclare two years ago, however that led to riots.
Six officers were injured, and 15 vehicles hijacked - many of them set alight - after police took down a limited number of flags in the Grange Drive and Doagh Road areas of the Co Antrim town.
The force was criticised for not consulting with local residents before taking action, and afterwards the Assistant Chief Constable apologised for the move.
The PSNI said removing flags is not their responsibility.
A spokesperson said: "The issue of flying flags affects all of Northern Ireland and can be a difficult and emotive one. There is an ongoing review of the 'Joint Protocol in Relation to the Display of Flags in Public Areas' by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
"We look forward to the outcome of this review."
© UTV News