NI leaders call for end to flag protests

Published Monday, 17 December 2012
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The First and deputy First Minister have called for an end to the ongoing loyalist protests against the decision to reduce the number of days the Union flag flies at Belfast City Hall.

NI leaders call for end to flag protests
Loyalist protesters converge on Belfast City Hall (© Pacemaker)

In a joint statement, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said politicians need to work together to find "an agreed solution".

They said: "We recognise and support the right to peaceful protest but the way forward is through dialogue.

"The current protests are damaging Christmas trade and the local economy as well as disrupting peoples' daily lives.

"An absence of street protests would provide the space to allow us all to work together to find an agreed solution."

The latest in a series of protests saw around 1,000 loyalists demonstrate peacefully in the city centre on Saturday amid a heavy police presence.

Protesters also disrupted rush hour traffic in Belfast last week and more flag protests are being planned this week.

Assistant Chief Constable Dave Jones said police are "determined to do everything we can to ensure people can go about their normal business".

"People have a right to go about their daily lives, to shop and to socialise, to pick up their children on time and get home to their families without being held up by these protests," he said.

"We will continue to have sufficient resources in place to deal with this activity and will endeavour to keep disruption to a minimum. However, I am appealing to those wishing to protest to consider how their actions are affecting the wider community.

"Police remain fully committed to delivering a safe and secure Christmas for everyone. An extensive evidence gathering operation will be put in place and where appropriate people will be brought before the courts."

The vast majority of all communities in Northern Ireland simply want to enjoy the festive period with their friends and families in peace.

PSNI ACC Dave Jones

Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of the NI Independent Retail Trade Association, also reiterated the call for demonstrations to end.

"These protests have cost the local economy millions of pounds and have put immense pressure on already struggling local retail and hospitality sectors this Christmas," he said.

"We would urge the protestors to listen to the joint call from the First and deputy First Ministers to end the protests and to go into dialogue to resolve this situation.

"Our local economy cannot afford to have roads blocked and town and city centres disrupted in what is the most important trading time of the year."

He added: "In this last week before Christmas, we urge the community to rally round and support local traders and not to be put off shopping in local town and city centres. Your local traders need you at this time and it is quite simply the case that if you don't use them, you will lose them."

On Saturday PUP leader Billy Hutchinson told UTV the process surrounding the removal of the flag earlier this month was "flawed" and "illegal" and suggested it may be possible to challenge the decision to put it back.

Violence erupted following a number of street protests, which have been held across Northern Ireland after councillors voted to only fly the flag on designated days at city hall and not all year round.

Forty people have been arrested so far in connection with the disorder.

Almost 30 police officers have been injured and a number of politicians have been subjected to death threats.

Two peace rallies were held in Belfast at the weekend, with over a thousand people taking part in a 'non-silent' demonstration on Sunday to show "the world that Northern Ireland has moved on from the Troubles".

On Monday, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt met with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, and discussed a number of issues.

"I impressed upon the Secretary of State the importance of ending the current piecemeal approach to dealing with the past," he said.

"Given that sectarianism is the toxic legacy of the Troubles, this will be an essential element in creating a truly shared future."

© UTV News
Comments Comments
62 Comments
Bob in Carrickfergus wrote (673 days ago):
I find it incredibly rediculous that these protests have not only got to this stage but been allowed to go this far. Firstly if the rest of the UK was looked at it would be seen that the decision over the flying of the union flag is more in line with the rest of the country. Secondly I don't think the majority of the protesters were even aware that the flag was even flown daily until attention was drawn to it. I have worked in Belfast for over twenty years and the only reason I was aware the flag flew daily was because I happened to notice it one day while I watched some work being done at the City Hall. The fact that it flew was certainly not noticeable. A person I know who works for the City Council said that even he wasn't aware the flag was flown daily. Just as a matter of interest how many of the councils of these towns and cities having protests actually fly the flag themselves?
Kevin in Rathcoole wrote (674 days ago):
"BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A PROCLAMATION As a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence perpetrated on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Conn., by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, Dec. 18, 2012." If that happened here,no such respect is possible.
MD in Belfast wrote (674 days ago):
If people think that protestors are going to listen to these clowns they're wrong.
Rab in Belfast wrote (674 days ago):
last comment I keep hearing as well that taking down the flag was illegal can someone explain that when a democratic vote is taken weather you like it or not how is it illegal i mean come on people do you actually read the rule of law
Rab in Belfast wrote (674 days ago):
no i am not joking this is my response to u people its a flag doesnt make you any more protestant or British stephen nolan yes i dont like him did a survey 80% of people didnt even know the flag was on city hall now the political representatives have taken a vote to fly the flag on certain days thats end of story if it bothers people that much fly the flag outside your own house. This city has lost near 10million in trade most of the idiots causing trouble are from 17-24 no offense what do kids know about the true culture or what that flag means get off the streets and stop messing around you are giving protestant people a bad name and i dont like that get a job and do something useful am a protestant man and i didnt even know the flag was up there grow up people we live in a shared society its time to act like grown ups
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