Row over tricolour and Palestinian flag in Coleraine council chamber

Councillors Darren O'Reiily, Gary Donnelly and Padraig McShane  with Mohammed Al-Halabi (second left) in Coleraine council chamber
Councillors Darren O'Reiily, Gary Donnelly and Padraig McShane with Mohammed Al-Halabi (second left) in Coleraine council chamber

Questions are to be asked on Tuesday night at the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council about why the Irish tricolour and Palestinian flag were unveiled in the chamber last week.

In a meeting on Thursday independent councillor Padraig McShane invited international director of Co-operation for the Municipality of Gaza, Mohammed Al-Halabi, to meet political activists in the council chamber in Coleraine.

However, the fact that the Irish tricolour and Palestinian flag were draped side-by-side from the front of the chamber has angered unionists.

Mayor Michelle Knight-McQuillan of the DUP said that she was not even invited to the event.

“It was a breach of trust and no permission had been given for it,” she said. “No flag should be flown in the council chamber in the interests of neutrality.”

The Union Flag is flown outside the building, she added.

The mayor was made aware that the event was taking place by council officials.

“But no formal invitation was made to me to attend,” she said. “Inquiries are ongoing into what actually took place.”

The relationship between Moyle District Council and Gaza began before Ballymoney, Coleraine, Limavady and Moyle councils merged in April.

Mayor Knight-McQuillan came from Coleraine Borough Council and is not familiar with the details of the relationship and does not know if any ratepayers’ money is given to the Gaza organisation. However, it is understood that such questions will be raised in the chamber in Coleraine on Tuesday night when the entire issue will be discussed.

“At the very least this whole thing has been a breach of trust and leaves a bad taste in the mouth, that you cannot trust your colleagues to behave sensibly,” she added.

A motion is also before the council to fly the Union Flag on nine council town halls and civic centres. It is expected to be passed by the unionist-dominated council in July.

Mr McShane said the mayor was made aware of the visit.

“But you have to understand that her party did not support the twinning with Gaza in the first place. We did not want to put her in an uncomfortable position by publicly inviting her to the event,” he said.

He said a mixture of political activists and pro-Palestinian activists took part in the event. Two independent councillors from Londonderry also took part, Darren O’Reilly and Gary Donnelly.

Since Moyle council was twinned with Gaza not a penny of ratepayers’ money has been sent overseas, he said. Only money raised through fund-raisers has been sent and he paid his own airfare to visit, he added.

A spokeswoman for Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council said: “The issue of flags on council premises is currently the subject of an equality impact assessment. The visit was privately arranged by Councillor P McShane.”

In a statement, Mr Al-Halabi said: “The legacy of this visit will be new proposals to enhance existing co-operation and develop new avenues of mutual support between peoples of Palestine and Ireland.”