Northern Ireland

Police investigate flags on Rathfriland water tower

Flags and paint on the Rathfriland water tower
Image caption NI Water said the flags were erected on the Rathfriland tower without permission during a break-in

Police have been asked to investigate after intruders climbed a 110ft (33.5m) water tower to place union flags on top and paint its edge red, white and blue.

The tower in Rathfriland, County Down, is owned by Northern Ireland Water.

The firm said the flags were erected without permission during a break-in and it has informed the police.

But South Down MP Chris Hazzard, from Sinn Féin, said the publicly-owned company had questions to answer about how the incident happened.

"Given the scale of this building, it clearly was not possible to carry out this vandalism without gaining access to the tower," he said.

A spokeswoman for NI Water said the firm suspects intruders climbed up the inside of the tower after breaking a lock.

"It is believed the outer wall was scaled and the strengthened lock to the tower's inner steel access door was cut open," she said.

"Specialist equipment would have been required to carry out this activity."

NI Water said it became aware of the incident on the afternoon of 16 July and reported it to the police immediately.

Police said they are carrying out inquiries after receiving a report of flags being erected and damage being caused to the tower.

'No action taken to remove flags'

The water tower on Castle Hill can hold hundreds of thousands of litres of water and supplies Rathfriland town.

The structure was built in the late 1970s and it is not the first time it has been painted red, white and blue and had flags placed on its top.

Image copyright Google Maps
Image caption The water tower has been painted red, white and blue on previous occasions

The latest incident took place in the lead up to this year's Twelfth of July commemorations, as Rathfriland hosted the biggest Orange Order parade in County Down.

Mr Hazzard said: "Rathfriland is a mixed town and this display was clearly intended to mark out territory and intimidate.

"It was erected for the Twelfth and still no action has been taken to remove it.

"That is entirely unacceptable."

The MP spoke to NI Water management on Wednesday but said he wants more answers about the incident and when the firm reported it to police.

He called on the company to secure the site so there could be no repeat of the incident.

NI Water said it is organising the removal of the flags and repairs to the doors of the tower.