DESPITE a notice of motion being passed which permitted the flying of the Pride flag from council buildings, none was flown on Pride Day on Saturday (4 August).
Using a ‘call-in’ procedure, the DUP challenged the decision to fly the rainbow flag from council buildings in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council area.
The call-in mechanism “came at the 11th hour” according to one Sinn Fein councillor who said he was “frankly disgusted at the DUP’s behaviour”.
“This is a continued denial of the rights of citizens, which are available to others in the UK,” said Councillor Kevin Savage.
“We thought it would be progressive to fly the Pride flag.”
At the last full meeting of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council a motion brought forward by Sinn Fein councillors Darren McNally and Liam Mackle was passed on Monday, 23 July.
The motion stated that: “This council recognises and values the contribution LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning and others) citizens make to the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough.
“However, this council is concerned about the recent number of hate incidents within this borough towards our LGBTQ+ citizens, which is at odds with our commitments in fostering good relations and a strong united community as part of Together: Building a United Community Strategy.
“To show our support and commitment this council will support Pride week (30 July-5 August) and fly the rainbow flag at Craigavon Civic Centre, Banbridge Civic Building and Palace Demense on Pride Day, Saturday, 4 August”.
After being debated at the meeting during which an UUP amendment to light the buildings in line with existing council policy, rather than fly a flag, was rejected the motion was passed, meaning the rainbow flag would fly from the proposed buildings on Saturday (4 August).
However, the DUP used the call-in procedure last Tuesday (31 July) stating that “due process had not been followed” and as a result the chief executive of the council, Roger Wilson must seek legal advice.
As part of the rules of this process, the rainbow flag could not be flown on Pride Day.
SDLP Councillor Seamus Doyle said the move by the DUP had been “left to such a time that there was not time to get legal advice” before Saturday.
“The decision to fly the flag was a democratic decision and that should have been the way it went,” he said.
However, the DUP reiterated its belief that due process had not been followed and said they had “exercised our democratic right to have the process by which this decision was arrived at scrutinised”.
“There are strict guidelines around flags and emblems and we believe the council has gone against its own policies in this regard by failing to carry out equality screening, public consultation and impact assessments on the matter,” said the DUP in a statement.
“There has been a lack of discussion around the implications of the decision to fly the flag which requires consideration over an appropriate time period. This is why in our original comments we referred to the motion and its presentation to council as ‘haphazard’.
“The powers being utilised by the DUP on ABC Council are legitimate and open to all councillor groupings and we will be interested in the findings of the subsequent inquiries into these matters.”
At the full council meeting in July it is understood the UUP collectively abstained from the vote, something they received criticism for from other councillors.
However, a UUP spokesperson told The Outlook they had put forward an amendment to the original motion.
“The Ulster Unionist Party proposed an amendment that council buildings should be lit up in line with existing council policy where requests are made to mark specific dates in the calendar.
“This is also a precedent agreed by Belfast City Council where City Hall is lit up to mark specific dates in the calendar such as the Twelfth of July, Remembrance, the Special Olympics, St Patrick’s Day and the 70th anniversary of the NHS.
“Regrettably our amendment was not supported by any of the other parties who have colleagues sitting in Belfast City Hall. Only one other councillor in the chamber expressed their support,” they said.
Meanwhile the chief executive of ABC Council, Mr Wilson is seeking legal advice and the matter will be debated again at the next full council meeting at the end of August.