Irish flag flies again at Florida pub as town suspends ban

Tue Mar 12, 2013 6:15pm EDT

Ireland's national flag flies above a statue on O'Connell Street in Dublin December 5, 2011. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Ireland's national flag flies above a statue on O'Connell Street in Dublin December 5, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

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(Reuters) - The Irish flag is flying again at an Irish pub in northeast Florida, where city officials suspended a ban on flying non-U.S. flags just in time for St. Patrick's Day celebrations on March 17.

The Atlantic Beach City Commission voted unanimously on Monday night to suspend enforcement of the flag ordinance until a new version can be drafted and approved, said the town's acting Mayor Maria Marks.

"We were able to hang the Irish flag back up today," said Aine Culhane, one of four sisters who own Culhane's Irish Pub, south of Jacksonville. "The support has been tremendous."

The sisters said they had flown the green, white and orange Irish flag alongside the American flag in front of their pub for eight years, and were shocked when code enforcement officers gave them a citation on February 20. It said they had 24 hours to "cease display of flags other than American flag."

The obscure ordinance was passed in the 1990s as part of a previous administration's attempt to clean up an unsightly commercial area, according to Marks. The language was ambiguous, however, and the ordinance banned flags, but carved out an exemption for the U.S. flag.

"There was never any intent to have any kind of prejudicial feeling against the Irish or anybody," she added.

The ordinance was little noticed until a Greek restaurant was cited for flying a Greek flag that partially blocked a sidewalk. He complained that he had been singled out, and the Culhanes were told their Irish flag had to come down as well, the acting mayor said.

News reports about the incident reached all the way back to Ireland, prompting a flurry of letters and emails, much of them accusing the city of bigotry.

"Some of it was really, really nasty," Marks noted.

City officials have proposed amending the ordinance to allow the flying of national flags, but the revision process requires a couple of readings and cannot be finished until April or May, she said. In the meantime, enforcement has been suspended.

"Everyone can fly their flag as long as it's not interfering with a right of way or creating a safety hazard," she said.

(Editing by G Crosse)

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