Unionist councillors have been criticised over their response to the flying of the Parachute Regiment flag in Derry’s Fountain estate as the annual Bloody Sunday commemorations were taking place at the weekend.
Discussions during a Derry City & Strabane District Council committee meeting became heated after the matter was raised by Sinn Féin councillor Christopher Jackson.
He said: “There was a very small element within the Fountain who were intent to stir up tensions and trouble in the run up to the weekend.
“I just want to condemn in the strongest possible terms those who decided in the week it was to cause hurt to the families and the victims of Bloody Sunday by erecting flags of the regiment that committed murder on the streets.”
SDLP councillor Brian Tierney, a member of the Bloody Sunday Trust, criticised the lack of unionist “leadership”.
“Those flags should never have gone up and the people who put them up should have known better,” he said.
“But the elected representatives of this chamber who have, I imagine, a little bit of sway within that community and a little bit of standing within that community, should have showed leadership and called for them to be taken down but they didn’t and that is shameful.”
The DUP’s Maurice Devenney responded: “I hear about the lack of leadership in the community but I remind those from the republican community who are here today when there were Para flags on the bonfire in the Bogside, I didn’t hear anyone complaining very much about them.”
He added: “I have said many, many times before, there are many issues around flags and what’s offensive to one isn’t offensive to the other.”
Mr Tierney responded: “I would like to ask Alderman Devenney if he knew what type of person he thinks would actually think about making fun and trying to poke fun at the deaths of innocent people, because I think it’s sick to be quite frank with you.
“I have always been brought up to believe when it’s wrong, it’s wrong. If it’s wrong in the Bog, it’s wrong in the Fountain. Alderman Devenney always wants to point out what nationalists are doing to offend unionists and he is right to do it, but he hides when unionists are doing something wrong to annoy nationalists, and that to me is the height of hypocrisy.
“He needs to grow up and he needs to call it out and he needs to stand up for what is right and what is right is condemning whoever put those flags up.”
Paying tribute to the Bloody Sunday families, independent councillor Gary Donnelly called the flying of the flag a “very, very deliberate act of provocation”.
He added: “It was a very, very hateful act which was designed to get a response. I genuinely don’t believe it is representative of all Fountain residents and I know that for a fact. Unfortunately, when an incident like this happens a lot of people get tarred with the same brush and that goes the same when the windows were put in at the home in the Fountain on top of innocent young children in the safety and sanctity of their own living room.
“I’m not sure how effective condemnation would be. I think this calls for leadership and for people to ensure both the hateful acts don’t happen because it doesn’t benefit any political ideology, it’s just hate.”