Erecting sectarian and paramilitary flags 'not criminal but wrong' says Norther Ireland's top police officer

 

Erecting flags may not always be a criminal offence but it is wrong, Northern Ireland's most senior police officer has said.

Matt Baggott also called for an urgent review of the outdated code of conduct which deals with the contentious flags issue.

"The placing of flags in places where they are not wanted is sectarian; it is not acceptable; it is wrong.

"Flags placed to deliberately upset or offend others may not be criminal but it is most certainly wrong," Mr Baggott said.

The chief constable was addressing a meeting of the PSNI's oversight body, the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

In recent weeks hundreds of paramilitary flags have been put up on lamp posts lining main arterial routes in east Belfast.

They were flown ahead of a centenary parade to mark 100 years since the foundation of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) but, despite assurances from organisers, the flags have not been taken down.

Loyalists also sparked controversy by flying flags outside Holy Cross girls' school in north Belfast which was the scene of a bitter sectarian dispute in 2001 and 2002.

The Policing Board heard that although flags were not illegal, the act of erecting them could be considered a breach of the peace. However, Mr Baggott said officers had to weigh up whether intervening would create a greater disturbance.

"If there is a potential for greater breach of the peace or disturbance by police actions we will always put public safety first. That is our decision making policy.

"Flags on flag poles are matters for the roads service; they are matters for the council and others who at the moment are not involved. We need to be very clear and have the political support to define what the PSNI's role is in all this," he said.

A flags protocol from the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister has not been reviewed since 2005. The chief constable said the issue should be dealt with swiftly.

"I am becoming frustrated and I know colleagues are. In the absence of anybody else doing anything the PSNI stepped into the gap and that in itself is controversial.

"I would really really value some more detailed conversations with the First and Deputy First Ministers' office so that protocol can be redefined, reasserted and made suitable for everybody," added Mr Baggott.

Speaking afterwards Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly described the PSNI's lack of action over paramilitary flags as unacceptable.

"People don't really care about flags when they are in areas where they are accepted. But, when they start appearing around interfaces, it is clearly a huge step backwards and raises tensions.

"The PSNI are saying it's not their job to take down flags but, it is their job to keep the peace. To take a policy of inactivity is not a policy at all," the north Belfast MLA said.

Matt Baggott also took the opportunity to appeal for calm during this year's marching season. He said local agreements should be reached to prevent violent clashes at interface areas.

"The cost to tourism and jobs of sectarianism and disorder has been significant and it would deflect from the enormous potential that is coming with the G8.

"I do believe that it is a time for quiet conversations, for compromise and particularly for local agreements being made.

"I want the police officers we have tackling the drug dealers. I do not want them standing behind riot shields," said Mr Baggott.

Meanwhile, Anne Connolly was selected to replace Brian Rea as chairman of the Policing Board for the next two years. She said she was looking forward to the challenge.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there