An Armagh councillor has hit out at what he describes as a “cheap stunt” aimed at raising community tensions after a banner with the words “no apology, no surrender” was erected in the city centre.
The banner, proclaiming support for Soldier F – similar to others banners erected in Portadown, Lurgan and Markethill, was hoisted above BarrackStreet around 8.30pm.
Sinn Fein councillor Garath Keating slammed those responsible for attempting to “set back cross-community relations”.
“I think by the very fact that you had to hide your own face in shame, as you erected a banner saying ‘no surrender, no apology’ in relation to the shooting of 28 unarmed people (and murder of 14) on one day says it all, quite frankly,” commented councillor Keating.
“The vast vast majority of normal Armagh people, irrespective of their political viewpoint, will see this as as little more than a cheap stunt to try and set back cross-community relations, which right thinking people are trying so hard to build.
“I’m sure the shop owners on Barrack Street and through the town will be delighted for controversy turning away shoppers over the busy summer season.”
The banners, erected across Co Armagh have proven divisive.
Speaking previously, former British Army Captain and current Ulster unionist MLA Doug Beattie said the issue of flying flags in support of ‘Soldier F’ is a “symptom of legitimate concerns about the imbalance in our approach to dealing with the past”.
“We live in a society which cherishes the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty.
“If people wish to support the accused during the trial that is their right and assuming Soldier F’s guilt is both wrong and undermines faith in the integrity and impartiality of the justice system.”
SDLP MLA Justin McNulty said the Soldier F banners are an “affront to victims”.
“The erection of Soldier F banners across Armagh in recent months is an affront to the memory of those murdered by the Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday,” he said.
“These banners are offensive and have no support from the community, and that’s why they’re erected by thugs skulking around in hoods or under the cover of darkness.
“This soldier is a man facing murder charges for his actions on Bloody Sunday. The banners are intended to inflict hurt on those who have already suffered so much.
“They are offensive to victims and families and are serving only to heighten already elevated tensions.
“Everyone needs to remember at the heart of this issue we have broken and grieving families – any actions that add to their pain and deepen divisions can not be tolerated. The banners should be taken down immediately.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MP Mickey Brady has challenged the PSNI to explain why the masked man was allowed to put up a controversial banner in Armagh city centre.
“PSNI officers were nearby at at the time and watched the masked man put up this banner but did not intervene,” Mr Brady claimed.
“It is wrong that this banner has been erected in Armagh city centre in the first instance but it is absolutely unacceptable that the PSNI stood by at the bottom of the ladder and watched while a masked man put it up.
“Incidents like this do nothing to support efforts to build community confidence in the PSNI.
“I have called for an urgent meeting with the PSNI over this and will be challenging them to explain why police officers stood by and watched while a masked man was in the city centre in broad daylight.”