Published Monday, 28 January 2013
Police use water cannon in east Belfast after they come under attack. (© Pacemaker)
Loyalist street protests first began in early December after Belfast City Council passed a vote to change the flying of the Union Flag at the historic City Hall building to designated days only.
The disorder sparked by the decision was top of the agenda during OFMDFM questions.
The veteran Sinn Féin politician was asked what help the Assembly was providing to traders, and what efforts were underway to get the dispute resolved.
The SDLP's Alban Maginness put it to the First Minister: "Apart from the financial support and the moral support, isn't it necessary in the present circumstances for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to publicly and visibly work together in order to calm the situation, to condemn violence and to condemn illegal protests."
In reply, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness made a startling revelation.
"Over two weeks ago I met, and this may come as a surprise to some people in this house, I met with some people who were involved in the protests and I also met with some people who I believed could influence the ending of violence on the streets," he told the floor.
"And I know that the First Minister is also as equally committed to ensuring an end to the violence in the streets as I am or any other member of this house."
UTV's political correspondent Tracey Magee said that it was surprising due to his position as a Sinn Féin minister, but also because protesters had been "particularly vitriolic" about his party.
"But he wanted to make it plain that he wanted to do everything to bring the flags dispute to an end. And, interestingly he said that he would be willing to meet with flag protesters from the Waterside area of Derry."