Masked men remove Union flags in Castlederg

The Ulster Unionist Party has said that masked men claiming to be from the Real IRA have removed loyalist flags from a road in Castlederg, Co Tyrone.

The flags were removed last weekend from lampposts and telegraph poles on the Lurganboy Road.

They have since been replaced and signs erected challenging those responsible.

A local Ulster Unionist councillor says a couple who challenged the gang were attacked, abused and threatened.

“A group of men, with their faces hidden were observed in the Castlederg area removing Union flags and Ulster flags which had been placed along that particular part of the town,” Alderman Derek Hussey explained.

“A young couple were returning home, noticed these people, stopped and asked them what they were doing and some of the men tried to take the young man out of the car before they attacked him in the car, they verbally abused the young girl who was driving the car as well.

“They made very worrying claims, that they were the Real IRA, and that if these flags went up again they would be visiting the young man.”

He added: “Extremely worrying, totally uncalled for and I can only describe this as a hate crime.”

It has been claimed that removing the flags was an attempt to heighten sectarian tensions in the area.

The UUP believes may be connected to a parade that’s planned for Castlederg this weekend.

The Royal Black Preceptory is holding a demonstration in town, one of a number that mark the traditional end of the loyalist marching season.

Sinn Féin says all incidents of this type must be condemned but also says it highlights the contentious nature of flags in the town.

UUP representatives have met with senior police officers at Strand Road police station to discuss the Castlederg situation - it’s understood they’ve been calling for an increased police presence in the town.