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Monday, May 16, 2022

DUP against decision not to fly flag for Prince Andrew at Belfast City Hall

Belfast Council has voted to stop the flying of the Union Flag at City Hall to mark Prince Andrew’s birthday – without DUP support.

SDLP Councillor Dónal Lyons, who made the proposal not to fly the flag, said the DUP “seems adamant on pushing council to recognise this man”.

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The proposal passed at the monthly meeting of the council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee on Friday (January 21) by 12 votes to 6. The SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Féin voted in favour of Councillor Lyons’ proposal, while six DUP councillors voted against. The decision will be ratified at full council on February 1, where it is expected to pass.

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Alliance Councillor Nuala McAllister proposed flying the Union Flag on July 1 to commemorate the Battle of the Somme as a replacement date, thereby maintaining the number of designated days for flying the flag. This proposal will be discussed later  at party group leader level.

American Virginia Giuffre, now 38 years old, has alleged that at age 17 she was sexually abused by the Prince, and coerced into having underage sex with him, by his associates Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.

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Councillor Lyons said at the meeting: “Flags in general are obviously a matter which cause a great deal of consternation and disagreement along traditional lines in Belfast, but it would be very wrong to view this proposal through that lens.

“I’m not raising this as a matter of national identity, but as a question of what’s right and what’s wrong, and I hope all parties will be clear-headed enough to recognise the problem here.

“Everyone is of course entitled to due process, but having a flag flown in your honour is an entitlement not a privilege. We have seen charities, schools, other councils and even the Royal Family take steps to distance themselves from this situation.”

He added: “I’m not going to comment on the allegations facing Prince Andrew, they are well documented and widely known, but I will say how you make your argument also reflects on your character.

“In a case with allegations of sexual assault and battery – to cast up ideas of gold-digging, to suggest that photographic evidence is being doctored, to throw up terms like ‘false memories’, to bring in health experts, to try constitutional protection, and seek to portray the victim as some kind of perpetrator – it’s nothing short of disgraceful. And it sends an appalling message to women and girls everywhere.”

He said: “To be clear, the SDLP still supports the agreed council position of designated days as a fair compromise. It is something we came to in a very difficult way around 10 years ago, and it served us well over those years.

“But times change and new issues emerge and we need to adapt to them. We can’t let those traditional divisions prevent us from addressing wider crises.”

DUP Alderman Brian Kingston said: “The position of the DUP’s councillors is that we should abide by our policy of implementing the flag days designated by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports at Westminster.

“We are certainly not blind to the allegations of gross misconduct, and we share the deep concern about these. But we should await the outcome of the trial. We are also aware the SDLP have form on the flying of the Union Flag on their City Hall, and that they voted to remove it completely every day of the year in 2012. We are not blind to that either.”

Councillor Lyons said after the meeting: “It’s extremely disheartening that despite my attempt to find a solution that would accommodate all parties, while saving the council from the spectacle of honouring someone facing the allegations before Prince Andrew, the DUP has obstinately rejected the proposal and seems adamant on pushing council to recognise this man.

“I cannot see why any councillor would want to fly the Union Flag from City Hall to mark the birthday of Prince Andrew. He has been stripped of all his royal duties, military honours and his family have distanced themselves from him due to the controversy surrounding him, but still the DUP want to see him honoured in Belfast.

“I would urge the DUP to seriously consider the impact this decision would have and the message it would send to women in our society. We have heard much conversation recently about the need for men to stand up and act as allies and call out unacceptable behaviour towards women and girls when we see it. To honour Prince Andrew in the current climate would bring shame upon our council and our city.”

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