Call for no murals or flags at Giro (UTV)

An Alliance MLA has called for flags and paramilitary murals to be removed from the route of the Giro d’Italia cycle race when it is staged in Northern Ireland in May.

The race, one of the most prestigious and historic events on the world cycling calendar, will hold its opening stages in Belfast next year. The ‘Grande Partenza’ – or Big Start – will take place in the city on 9 May 2014.

Over 200 riders from more than 30 countries are set to line up in Belfast for the race, which is being held outside mainland Europe for the first time in its history.

Earlier this month, SDLP Environment Minister Mark H Durkan urged political parties not to place European and local government election posters along the Giro d’Italia route.

The cycle race is watched by a global audience of 800m people and organisers are concerned that stages in Belfast, along the North Coast and in Co Armagh would be blighted by political billboards hung on lampposts along the streets.

Alliance’s Anna Lo, the party’s Environment spokesperson, said that along with election posters, flags should be also be taken down and paramilitary murals painted over.

“Alliance agrees that we should take down election posters on the route of the Giro d’Italia for the duration of the race if there is agreement from all political parties. However, if there is cross party agreement on this, then we should also look to take down flags and paramilitary murals along the route.

“The very same arguments that politicians have been making about taking down election posters to showcase Northern Ireland and our beautiful scenery, also applies to flags and paramilitary murals,” she said.

Ms Lo said that funding will be made available in towns along the route to improve the image of eyesores such as derelict buildings, but admitted that she has “a bigger problem with images of paramilitary gunmen.”

“Do we really want these images to be visible on the route when millions of people will be watching the race on television? Why would we spend money on improving derelict buildings but not deal with threatening and intimidating paramilitary murals?

“If all parties agree to take down election posters, then we should also look to take down the flags that are on the same lamp posts. People are tired of flags being used to mark territory and intimidate local people. This is not the image that we want to be sending out to the world during such a prestigious event,” she continued.

“The Giro d’Italia provides us with a great opportunity to show that Northern Ireland has moved beyond the politics of the past. As political parties were so willing to support the ban on election posters along the route, I hope they will show similar support for a ban on flags and paramilitary murals.”

During the competition, participants, who compete for the maglia rosa – or the pink jersey – will race through the streets of Belfast on day one. Starting at the Titanic Building the route will take the riders out to Stormont and back to the finish line at Belfast City Hall.

On day two of the event, the route will take competitors up through Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney to Bushmills and back through the iconic Glens of Antrim to Larne, Carrick and Whiteabbey to the finish line at city hall in a 218km endurance stage.

And on the third stage. the cyclists will race from Armagh to Dublin before heading back to Italy to complete the 21-stage race on 1 June.

Reacting, Community Relations Council Chair Peter Osborne said: “We all know that flying flags on lamp posts can be intimidating and used to mark out territory.

“The Flags protocol from the mid-2000s, agreed by OFMdFM and public agencies, recommended a proactive approach with the support of communities and their representatives, to remove all flags and emblems from arterial routes and town centres and to control all displays of flags and emblems in particular areas, e.g mixed and interface areas.

“While welcoming the idea of removing flags from lampposts on the route of the Giro d’Italia, it does remind me of a dysfunctional family who want to hide their behaviour when visitors come calling.”

He added: “The real need is not to simply hide the behaviour. The real need is to understand and change the behaviour.

“The real need, more immediately, is to fulfil a duty of care to people who feel bullied or intimidated by flags especially at sensitive locations. Flags erected on lamp posts to intimidate or mark territory simply should not be tolerated anywhere at any time.”

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