Private flag talks amid dissident warning

Published Wednesday, 09 January 2013
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The ongoing trouble over flags is "opening up opportunities" for dissident republicans to try and kill police, the Secretary of State has warned - after private talks took place in east Belfast in a bid to end the violence.

Private flag talks amid dissident warning
The Union flag flies at Belfast City Hall since restrictions were put in place. (© Pacemaker)
TIMELINE: DESIGNATED DAYS AT CITY HALL
9 JanuaryBirthday of The Duchess of Cambridge
20 JanuaryBirthday of The Countess of Wessex
6 FebruaryHer Majesty's Accession
19 FebruaryBirthday of The Duke of York
10 MarchBirthday of The Earl of Wessex
11 MarchCommonwealth Day (second Monday in March)
17 MarchSt. Patrick's Day
21 AprilBirthday of Her Majesty The Queen
9 MayEurope Day
2 JuneCoronation Day
10 JuneBirthday of The Duke of Edinburgh
16 JuneOfficial Celebration of Her Majesty’s Birthday
21 JuneBirthday of The Duke of Cambridge
17 JulyBirthday of The Duchess of Cornwall
15 AugustBirthday of The Princess Royal
10 NovemberRemembrance Sunday (second Sunday in November)
14 NovemberBirthday of The Prince of Wales
20 NovemberHer Majesty’s Wedding Day

Theresa Villiers condemned the disorder which has flared across Northern Ireland since the Union Flag was removed from Belfast City Hall, including the past six nights of rioting in east Belfast.

She said that while over 60 officers have been hurt on the front line, they are also being left open to dissident murder bids while the trouble continues.

"They are putting police in harm's way not just with bricks and petrol bombs but by opening up opportunities for attacks by dissident republicans, who relentlessly continue their attempts to murder police officers," said Ms Villiers at the University of Ulster on Wednesday.

"It is vital that this issue comes off the streets to allow local politicians and community leaders the space to sit round a table and engage in a dialogue."

The Union Flag was hoisted at City Hall on Wednesday morning to mark the Duchess of Cambridge's birthday, one of the 18 occasions during the year when it is allowed to fly under the new policy of designated days. It was lowered again in the evening.

Meanwhile UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and the DUP Lord Major of Belfast, Gavin Robinson, were among the politicians who gathered for talks at the Reverend Mervyn Gibson's Westbourne Church, as efforts to ease the unrest continue.

Clergy and community workers - and people with paramilitary connections - also attended.

If we can get the violence off the street then we need to address the underlying problems and engage the young people involved in that violence.

Rev Mervyn Gibson

It followed another night of trouble in east Belfast, during which petrol bombs, fireworks, bricks and other missiles were thrown at police by loyalist rioters on the Lower Newtownards Road. While it wasn't on the same scale as previous evening, three people were arrested and one PSNI officer was injured.

Prime Minister David Cameron said segregation between communities has contributed to the problem and challenged local politicians to break down the barriers.

In response to a question from the DUP's Nigel Dodds at Westminster, the PM said: "We need to build a shared community in Northern Ireland where we break down the barriers of segregation that have been in place for many, many years.

"I think that is part of the challenge of the tension we have seen in recent days."

Alliance MP Naomi Long welcomed Mr Cameron's comments.

She said: "I welcome the emphasis that the Prime Minister has put on a delivering a genuine shared future in the context of addressing our current difficulties.

"The violence that we have seen in recent weeks further exposes the deep sectarian tensions in our community and highlights, in my view, the lack of both leadership and commitment from many parties to delivering on reconciliation in a meaningful way."

The DUP also called for a further meeting with Mr Cameron over increasing the participation in politics of people in deprived parts of Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile Mike Nesbitt said he is disappointed that the flag was not flown from Parliament Buildings on Wednesday.

This is due to two different lists of designated days being adopted by City Hall and Stormont.

"It is a ridiculous situation that the Union flag is being flown at full mast from Belfast City Hall today, but not at Stormont, because there is more than one, agreed list of designated days," said the Strangford MLA.

"I have raised this issue with the Secretary of State's Office, and am seeking a meeting with Theresa Villiers to ask her to address this inconsistency."

Patsy McGlone of the SDLP said the longer it goes on, the more serious it gets.

He continued: "It is imperative that these protests come to an end so that, in tandem with the necessary political discussions that need to be had, businesses and economists can redouble their efforts to repair the fiscal damage caused by the destructive behaviour of rioters."

The first meeting of the new Unionist Forum, which calls for representatives to come together in a bid to end the unrest, is to take place on Thursday.

Further protests have been organised for later in the week and the weekend.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
62 Comments
Liberal Pedant in On a different planet to the rioters wrote (613 days ago):
Renard - in your wisdom, can you suggest a better compromise than the GFA? Maybe one in which playparks could not be named after republicans, as passed into law by your new Dublin government..? Republicans effectively surrendered and sued for terms. What they got was rather poor from their ideological position - try seeing the situation from the republican viewpoint. Men died on hungerstrike (way more than 10, by the way, of which McCreesh of playpark renown was one) for something very different to the GFA. If the British army murdered people, or otherwise broke the law, should they be exempted from prosecution simply because they agree with you politically? Do you consider the design of the police uniform to pose a genuine threat to peace or the constitutional status of the six counties? Does the design of their uniform explain or excuse why loyalists have been trying to kill them recently? Should nationalists not be allowed to form pressure groups because they want different things to unionists (like not having supremacist marches forced through their areas)? Is the structure of the educational system so important to unionists that they cherish the 11 plus over a stable, functioning government? That is bizarre, especially given the number of schoolboy spelling, grammatical and syntactic errors in many of the comments posted here by some of those defending the 11 plus. If you want educational selectivity - send your children to a private school like my parents did with me. Otherwise just be thankful that the state gives you free education at all, many countries in other parts of the world do not. Also, please tell me how a language threatens the state. Wales has its language but it won't be voting itself out of the union any time soon. I'd say that it was fairly predictable that culturally Irish parties would use Irish as much as practical. Why does that surprise you, why do you think it's wrong and how do you think it harms the union?
Aine keegan in Belfast wrote (614 days ago):
Last I checked loyalists were throwing the petrol bombs at police not the republicans or nationalists Teresa needs to get her facts straight.
Patricia in tyrone wrote (614 days ago):
whats wrong here is, for too long, over many decades, NI had a protestant majority government, everything from housing to employment was governed by them. the union flag should never have been flown 365 days of the year anyway, why should we be an exception to the rule that the rest of the British Isles adhere to? furthermore, it also illegal to fly the flag anywhere but designated buildings, yet it flies in housing estates and roads all over NI? my step father is an English man that served in the navy, it disgusts him how the flag he fought under is being made a total mockery of in NI,how it's used as a symbol of hate/defiance/segregation/protestism. these rioters dont care about the flag, they are unemployed yobs looking a nights craic, it is no coincidence that better educated kids from better areas DO NOT behave like this. Belfast in particular, is giving the rest of NI a bad name, most mixed communities live in harmony with their neighbours regardless of religious differences. there are very stupid people and politicans representing a minority, the rest of us hard working, respectable people have more important things to focus on.
Frosty in Here wrote (614 days ago):
50 years of trouble later and the police still haven't twigged on that they're dealing with Northern Ireland based mafia-like families and their foot soldiers, while the loyalist/republican families that are in on it are raking the money in. There is no cause, only cash.
Ryan in Belfast wrote (614 days ago):
The only way the Union flag will be up on city hall 24/7 again is if the Irish Tricolour is flying along with it. Even the equality commission suggested monthes ago that this should be considered but of course unionists werent happy with that, so SDLP/SF/Alliance choose the next best thing and that was a no flags or designated days policy. Loyalists just have to face the facts, Belfast is the new Derry, its a nationalist majority, its a changed city, its no longer the Orange Beacon of Loyalism, its a city for EVERYONE. The Union flag is not my flag, the Irish Tricolour is my flag and i dont care who says "but we're in the UK", i dont care, im Irish and my flag is the Irish Tricolour.
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BRIAN ROWAN
The voice above the crowd didn't come from within that increasingly tense and angry political arena.
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