South Belfast PSNI flags move welcomed

South Belfast PSNI flags move welcomed

Alliance and Sinn Féin politicians have welcomed a move by the PSNI in relation to the flying of flags in a "mixed" area of south Belfast.

The parties have said the police will treat the erection of flags on lampposts in the Ballynafeigh area of the Ormeau Road in Belfast as a "breach of the peace".The decision comes after a number of loyalist flags were erected in the area.South Belfast MLA Anna Lo said the commitment from the police was welcomed and called for them to remove those flags already in place.The Alliance representative said: "I am deeply concerned by the proliferation of flags in the area and do not wish to see them used as a means of intimidation and to mark out territory."This action will send out a strong message to those who wish to use flags to intimidate people in the local community - however, it will not deal with the flags that are already on lampposts."I hope that the police will seek to remove flags where the community so desires."Ms Lo added: "I would also question why the police have not taken this position before. This has shown that the flags protocol is not working and must be urgently updated."Residents in the Ballynafeigh area will be pleased that the police have listened to their concerns, but the PSNI should be taking a similar approach in other areas where the local community wishes to see action."The removal of flags is not the responsibility of the PSNI and police can only act to remove flags where there are substantial risks to public safety.PSNI statementSinn Féin's Alex Maskey said the move was an "important milestone".The MLA added: "This comes after meetings with the PSNI and others in the wider local community - I met with the PSNI's senior leadership team in south and east Belfast."This followed an incident where police officers stood by and watched as flags were put up. I told them that I did not want to see a repeat of what happened."This announcement from the PSNI is to be welcomed and I will continue to meet with them to see how we can take this initiative forward."However, speaking to the BBC a PSNI spokesperson said tensions were "particularly heightened" by the number of flags put up in the area."As a result, police have directed that any future erection of flags on this part of the Ormeau Road will be treated as a breach of the peace. Community representatives have been spoken to and advised of this," the spokesperson said.However, police have said the removal of flags is not their responsibility and that they will only act in "extreme circumstances", for example where life was at risk.A PSNI statement added: "We accept that this can lead to the perception of differing approaches in different areas, but this is the essence of local community resolutions in the absence of a wider consensus."

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