A WELSH police chief's fears about English flag-waving were last night branded an insult to Welsh people.
Politicians were riled by the suggestion that Welsh people are so intolerant they cannot accommodate the fans of other nations flying their flags.
One Plaid Cymru MP said he would like the freedom to wave his Welsh flag whenever he wanted, but would grant the same right to English fans.
And another MP added, "I can't believe the people of Wales are so intolerant of a few English football fans that they would be incited to violence."
Representatives from all the major parties reacted negatively to the comments made by Clive Wolfendale in an interview on BBC Radio Wales.
Mr Wolfendale, the Deputy Chief Constable of North Wales Police, said, "There's definitely a place for flag waving. I'm an Englishman and I will be supporting England during the World Cup. If I were at a game or in and around the stadiums there's a fair chance I might be waving a flag.
"But there comes a point when weeks before the tournament the incessant use of these symbols is a bit in your face. I wish people sometimes would reflect on the impact it's having on others.
"To have the flag ostensibly of another country - and in a footballing context it definitely is another country - being displayed so frequently and overtly, is unnecessary sometimes. I just wish people would reflect on that before they start festooning their vehicles in this way.
"There's nothing whatsoever illegal in it and people have a right to display it. But it's a matter of courtesy and decent behaviour.
"Let's all remember at the end of the day it is a game of football and, there's no doubt about it, this can be the precursor to behaviour which is much worse than flag waving - violence, racism, hooliganism of the very worst kind."
But politicians dismissed his comments.
Elfyn Llwyd, the Plaid Cymru parliamentary leader and MP for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, said, "I'm sitting on the bus in London and all around me are St George flags and it isn't a problem. I say good luck to England. It doesn't antagonise me.
"I am a passionate supporter of Wales and I would want to wave my Welsh flag wherever I wanted and the same should be the case for England fans. They should be allowed to fly their flags anywhere, and that includes Wales.
"I don't think we should be scared by this. When I see an England flag, it doesn't make me want to rise up against the English.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion but, in this case, I think he should keep his own counsel."
Alyn and Deeside Labour MP Mark Tami said Mr Wolfendale risked creating a problem "that isn't actually there".
"I thought the role of the police was to fight crime, not to tell us what team we should be supporting and how we should support it.
"A lot of people in North East Wales were born in England and support England.
"England are the only home nation left in the competition and while we would have wanted Wales - and Scotland and Northern Ireland - there too, I would want everyone to get behind England, as I think it would be good for the whole country, just as I believe the London Olympics will benefit us all.
"If it was the other way round, I would hope that people in England would want Wales to do well.
"Why he has made these comments, I don't know. He has made an issue when there isn't one. Just saying it gives the impression that there is a problem, and it also kowtows to it."
Clwyd West Tory MP David Jones said, "I have got a lot of respect for Clive Wolfendale, I think he's an extremely good policeman. But on this occasion I don't know what he's getting at.
"England got through to the World Cup finals. These are English supporters who are very proud that England got there, just as we would be if Wales did so. It's pretty innocuous to display their flag from little flagpoles on their cars if they want to do that.
"I can't believe the people of Wales are so intolerant of a few English football fans that they would be incited to violence. He's completely barking up the wrong tree and seems to have been intoxicated by the exuberance of his own verbosity.
"He said he personally would be quite happy to fly his own flag if he were attending the World Cup finals.
"I would have thought that in the atmosphere which prevails there, it would be more likely to incite hooliganism. Flying a little flag on your way to Colwyn Bay for the day isn't going to spark any violence at all.
"I don't think there's any merit in what Mr Wolfendale is saying. To say it could lead to hooliganism of the worst kind is nonsense."
David Davies, the Conservative Monmouth MP, said Mr Wolfendale's remarks were "rather silly comments".
He added, "If people want to support England, I think that's a good thing. As a Welshman, I shall be supporting England and would optimistically hope that my fellow Welsh would do the same, too."
He felt that what Mr Wolfendale had said lumped enthusiastic England fans in with hooligans.
"It's absolute nonsense. No way is any flag flying going to lead to violence. There are a small minority of idiots who go around picking fights and causing trouble, but they dress up in casual clothing so they can't be identified, not England shirts.
"It's a sad day if we're not mature enough to accept England fans supporting their team. A nation secure and confident in itself doesn't need to be wary of a few England flags."
Lembit Opik, the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader and Montgomeryshire MP, said Mr Wolfendale's thinking could be taken to an extreme.
"I think it's a rather silly point. [It means] You wouldn't have people wearing Union Jack T-shirts on Aberystwyth beach - the Spice Girls couldn't come on holiday here.
"You have to credit people with a little more intelligence. What about the Wrexham fans who will be wearing Trinidad and Tobago shirts (defender Dennis Lawrence is Trinidadian)? The Eurovision Song Contest seems to get by with lots of flags.
"Football is a sport, and a little caution should be exercised here. People should be able to support whatever team they want, a flag is not indicative of a political stance.
"This sort of comment shows just how little faith the police have in our common sense. The police should lighten up."
Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for the Rhondda, said the whole thing was "utter drivel, because I don't believe that all Welsh people hate all English people, and all English people hate all Welsh people. I don't believe there is the incitement."
He argues that the police had wrong priorities.
"Instead of investigating the Prime Minister for comments he may or may have not said (spin doctor Lance Price claimed Tony Blair shouted "f***ing Welsh" when he heard the result of the 1999 Assembly elections), instead of investigating Anne Robinson (after she criticised the Welsh on Room 101), instead of investigating a Muslim leader for supposed homophobic remarks, they should be tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.
"A little dose of common sense is needed here. I hate the phrase 'political correctness gone mad', but when you get the police start to go down such byroads of the law, they need to be reminded that there's a job to be done.
"Can you imagine what would happen if a Welsh person in England was not allowed to sing the Welsh national anthem, or wear a Welsh shirt? People would rightly go mad."
Last month, North Wales Police said it was preparing for World Cup "kick offs", after research showed domestic violence rose when one partner's team won.
Mr Wolfendale said at the time, "We have similar concerns around racial tension. There seems to be increasing jingoism around football tournaments.
"This is demonstrated by the number of flags you see around and we don't want this to spiral into criminality."
North Wales Police insisted the BBC had taken Mr Wolfendale's comments "totally out of context".
A police spokeswoman added, "He's asking people to consider other communities in North Wales."
Page 2 - No stranger to controversy
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