A ROW has broken out over ‘an oversight’ which led to the Union flag not being flown from Dungannon Courthouse on February 6, a designated day.
The company which provides security for the Northern Ireland Courts Service has apologised for the mistake.
Justice Minister, David Ford has confirmed that security provider G4S was responsible for ensuring the designated days policy was upheld at all court buildings.
“G4S were asked for an immediate report on why this failure occurred and have advised that it was due to human error,” the Alliance Party leader added.
“The NICTS Chief Executive is meeting the Northern Ireland Managing Director of G4S urgently to discuss this matter. Any disciplinary action will be a matter for G4S.”
In a statement, a G4S spokeswoman said that not flying the flag at Dungannon courthouse on the day in question had been due to an “oversight”.
However, Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Maurice Morrow has claimed the Justice minister is trying to distance himself from the contentious issue.
Lord Morrow criticised the Justice minister for not providing information about another alleged incident in which a member of G4S Security was suspended for alleged gross misconduct for forgetting to take the Union flag down after being flown on a designated day.
“I duly contacted the G4S Director of Northern Ireland Operations and he confirmed ‘an issue’ had occurred but claimed he could not elaborate as it was under investigation”, said the MLA.
“He stated all procedures where union-approved and in response I have asked him to direct me to these procedures but that has, as yet, not occurred. I would be very surprised if there is any procedure in place to deem failing to remove a Union Flag in time as gross misconduct or even a disciplinary offence, never mind suspension.
“In the meantime I have challenged the Justice Minister as to why he will not provide information in respect of a departmentally-contracted company financed by the public and therefore answerable as such.
“It is my belief the Minister is trying to distance himself from the whole pathetic business given his party’s role in the creation a situation at Belfast City Hall.
“However I should point out, the Minister has confirmed, in writing, that failure to remove a Union Flag is not a criminal offence. That speaks volumes.”
It has emerged that the flag was not flown at Ballymena, Enniskillen and Derry courthouse, as well.
“Following an internal investigation, G4S has taken immediate corrective action to ensure compliance with flag flying requirements,” said the spokesperson for G4S.
“All staff have been reminded to ensure that correct procedures are followed on designated flag flying days.”
The flying of Union flags has been at the centre of ongoing tensions since 3 December, when a motion was passed by Belfast City Council to adopt a designated days policy at Belfast City Hall.
A motion to stop flying the flag completely was tabled by Sinn Féin and the SDLP, but was amended by the Alliance Party to allow the Union flag to be flown on 18 designated days.
Unionist parties voted against any restrictions being put in place.
Flying the flag on designated days brings the policy at City Hall into line with Stormont and other government buildings across Northern Ireland, and the rest of the UK.
Loyalists have been protesting throughout the two months since the amended motion was passed.