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Monday 15 September 2014

Councillor pulls down Israeli flag at children's sailing event

Published 19/07/2014 | 15:42

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Cllr Hugh Lewis taking down the Israeli flag in Dublin.

A DUBLIN councillor has defended pulling down an Israeli flag at an international children’s sailing event.

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Hugh Lewis of People Before Profit brought a ladder to the seafront in Dun Laoghaire where flags from some 44 countries were flying to mark the European Optimist championship. The event is for under-16 sailors.

Three girls and four boys from Israel took part in the four-day event which ended today.

Dun Laoghaire Harbour officials had refused requests by Lewis during the week to remove the flag and he and three other members of the party removed it on Friday morning.

He later posted a picture of himself climbing the ladder to take down the flag with the comment: “After many attempts appealing to the Harbour Company they still refused to remove the flag of the apartheid regime of Israel. As a result People Before Profit have removed the flag. Today alone there have been over 14 more deaths in Gaza due to Israeli brutality, please join the protest tomorrow at 2pm at the Spire. Demand justice for Palestine.”

He said he removed the flag with the help of four other party members.

Councillor Lewis said he had “nothing personal” against the Israeli children who were participating in the event.

He had thought the event was for under 18s but when informed it was for under 16s, he replied: “That means very little to me. When they are 17 they are going into to be drafted into the Israeli Army. They’re not that young then. Maybe this will make them understand what Israel is doing in Gaza.

“I was informed about the flying of the flag by constituents and I wrote to the Harbour Company requesting them to take it down. I was told at one stage they would take it down as they were being inundated with calls.

“I received a letter on Friday from the Harbour Company saying they were not taking down the flag and I undertook to do it myself. I did not want the flag flying at such an inappropriate time with what is happening in Gaza.

“In my opinion there should be a sporting boycott of Israel. This (event) legitimises the State of Israel.”

Organiser Frank O’Byrne said the event had been a great success with some 600 people mostly in family groups travelling from all round the world to Dun Laoghaire. Many, he said, were staying on for family holidays so the event marked a major success for one of its sponsors, Failte Ireland.

“It is the biggest junior class in the world. It is the cradle of sailing. In terms of the London 2012 Olympics north of 50 per cent of the sailors who won medals are former Optimist sailors.

“The healthy smiling outdoor faces: that is the genuine payback of this event. A bunch of happy kids from all round the world. There are 33 European and 11 beyond. There are kids here from Brazil, New Zealand, Japan. It wonderful to see kids from Brazil telling Irish kids what their country is like, kids from Slovenia chatting to kids from Japan.”

 Mr O’Byrne said he had no comment on Councillor Lewis’ removal of the Israeli flag. While the flag outside the ferry terminal was still down yesterday, the Israeli flag was still flying inside the grounds of the Royal St George club along with the 43 other nations.

Optimists are eight-feet-long single sail dinghies and one of the biggest classes of sailing boats in the world with an estimated 150,000 boats being sailed worldwide.

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