A row has broken out over flags erected at the entrance to Craigavon Area Hospital.
Sinn Fein have called for the ‘immediate removal’ of the Israeli flags, which MLA John O’Dowd described as ‘seeking to intimidate’ the sick and those visiting the sick.
However, Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie described Mr O’Dowd’s statement as ‘selective outrage’.
Mr Beattie said, while he saw no need to fly an Israeli flag near the hospital, he wondered where the outrage was at flags on the Garvaghy Road close to the People’s Park.
Mr O’Dowd said: “A hospital is not the place for flags of any sort. Those who have placed the Israeli flag at the entrance of Craigavon Area Hospital are seeking to intimidate those, including people within their own community, visiting sick relatives and friends in one of our main hospitals as well as members of staff caring for sick relatives and friends.
“They should be removed immediately. Both myself and Councillor Paul Duffy are meeting the PSNI this week and will raise this.
“In the meantime we would call on all those with influence in the community to seek immediate removal.”
Mr Beattie said: “There are two issues here that should be addressed. Firstly I see absolutely no need for the flying of the Israeli flag as part of the run up to the Twelfth Celebrations in the same way I saw no need to fly the Palestinian flags as part of the Easter Rebellion Commemorations. Yet that is exactly what happened and is happening.
“Is the flying of the Israeli national flag appropriate? No it isn’t. Is it intimidatory? I can’t see how it is.
“The issue surrounding flags in general remains contentious. Where some see this as flags outside a hospital, others see it as flags on the old Lurgan Road - a main arterial route between Lurgan and Portadown.
“I have publicly commended those who have instigated a Flags Protocol in Portadown and I continue to do so. Although not perfect it has seen the number of paramilitary flags reduced and – in the main – all flags have been taken down on time and are not flown at interfaces.
“While addressing flags on lampposts on the Old Lurgan Road, we also need to address flags on the Garvaghy road outside the People’s Park - a shared space. These flags also stretch to the Moy roundabout close to a school and church as well as Irish flags flown along the main arterial route into Lurgan. These are issues which I raised with both Sinn Fein and the SDLP with very differing responses.
“Selective outrage is exactly that - hence the Flags, Identity, Culture and Traditions commission was set up by the then First Minister, Arlene Foster and the Deputy First Minister, the late Martin McGuinness in 2016. Its aim is to find a way forward between these competing narratives and until it reports there is likely to be some kind of outrage every time a particular flag is flown.”
SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said: “As if it’s not enough for the people here to have to put up with flags highlighting our divided community, we are now being forced into conflicts from elsewhere.
“I am quite sure the people that are putting up these Israeli flags have no real understanding of the conflict, nor do they care.
“They merely exist to create tension and division in our already polarized society. I’ve spoken to Israeli citizens who are outraged that their country and its sovereign flag should be treated in such a manner and with such contempt!
“It is with bitter regret that the previous executive avoided dealing with the unlawful use of public property! Pushing this responsibility onto the police is a cop-out.
“I call on all those with influence to have them removed outside the entrance of the hospital demonstrates the level of disregard those responsible have for patients and their families.”
A Southern Trust spokesperson said: “The flags on display at the Kernan Road roundabout are outside the perimeter of the Craigavon Area Hospital site. We are committed to ensuring the hospital site remains neutral and welcoming to everyone accessing the site.”
DUP Cllr Darryn Causby said: “I am not surprised that Sinn Fein are raising this issue again this year. They do it every year and one often wonders is it a deliberate attempt to ratchet up tensions? However I find it difficult to hear SF complaints this year again due to their hypocrisy and double standards.
“Many will know and have seen the tricolour flags that have adorned every lamppost from the Dungannon Rd to Parkside and from the tunnel bridge to Craigwell Ave since Easter this year, so we will take no lectures from SF on this matter. Significantly we have Tricolour flags on the lampposts outside the Public Park with has had significant investment to help create a shared space in the town, I look forward to SF acting on this issue very soon.”