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Belfast politician calls for flags and mural ban during Giro d'Italia visit

Parties already close to agreeing not to display election posters along route of May's race...

A politcian in Northern Ireland is calling for a proposed ban on election posters being displayed on the route of the Giro d'Italia when the three-week race begins there in May be extended to include flags and sectarian murals.

Anna Lo, assembly member for South Belfast for the non-sectarian Alliance Party, says that with coverage of the opening days of the race potentially being seen by hundreds of millions of television viewers worldwide, Northern Ireland, and the city of Belfast, should be sending out a unified message rather than reinforcing historical divisions.

During the past week, politcial parties in Northern Ireland, encouraged by environment minister Mark Durkan have moved towards an agreement not to display campaign posters for the European and local council elections on 22 May on the route the Giro will follow.

The race begins on Friday 10 May, with the opening two stages starting and finishing in Belfast and Stage 3 beginning in Armagh then heading across the border to end in Dublin.

But Ms Lo urged that if the parties were united in agreeing to remove those posters, "then we should also look to take down the flags that are on the same lamp posts," reports

"People are tired of flags being used to mark territory and intimidate local people," said Ms Lo.

"This is not the image that we want to be sending out to the world during such a prestigious event.

"Funding will be made available in towns along the route to improve the image of eyesores such as derelict buildings but I have 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?

"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."

While races such as the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France are often used as a platform to make a politcial point - last year's Grand Depart of the latter on Corsica saw separatists daub pro-independence slogans on the roads the race passed over - the situation in Northern Ireland is different.

The flags and murals that Ms Lo is talking about wouldn't be there specifically for the Giro, but form part of the streetscape in Belfast and elsewhere, and many people, whether describing themselves as unionists or nationalists, wish to keep it that way.

That was brought home in December 2012 when a decision by Belfast City Council to limit the days per year that the union flag was flown from Belfast City Hall - in line with British government guidelines elsewhere in the UK - sparked protests from some loyalist factions who wished the flag to continue to be flown on a daily basis, those protests leading to riots.

As for the murals, there are approximately 2,000 throughout Northern Ireland, the vast majority of them sectarian in nature - some, such as the one commemorating the Titanic above, aren't - and which have become a tourist attraction in their own right since the ending of the Troubles in recent ytears.

Thje route of the Giro itself has come under criticism from the nationalist community; last October, Darach McQuaid, whose Dublin-based sports consultancy Shadetree Sports is organising the Giro d'Italia's visit, defended the decision of organisers RCS Sport not to route the race through the traditionally nationalist area of West Belfast, as well as the Mourne Mountains.

Responding to critcism from Sinn Fein and SDLP politicians, McQuaid - brother of former UCI president Pat McQuaid - told the BBC: "We can't bring the race past every front door in every household in Belfast, or for that matter through Northern Ireland as a whole.

"There is always going to be somebody who'll say: 'Why is the race not coming past our front door, or through our area?" he added.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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