Union flag move a 'cultural war' - Robinson

Union flag move a 'cultural war' - Robinson

DUP leader Peter Robinson has hit out at those behind the flag protests in Northern Ireland, saying they cost jobs and investment in the region.

Speaking at the party's first ever Spring Policy Conference in Co Fermanagh, Mr Robinson said the decision to take down the Union flag at Belfast City Hall was "a disaster for Northern Ireland as a whole".

The council decision in December to limit the flying of the Union flag to designated days sparked disorder across Northern Ireland.

Weeks of protests followed and violence broke out at some flag demonstrations, with protestors pelting police with petrol bombs, bricks and other debris.

The First Minister described the reduction as an "aggressive and unnecessary step" which overturned the "settled, if delicate equilibrium, in Belfast".

He added: "Jobs lost, tourists deterred, business damaged, potential investment threatened, security costs soaring, police officers injured, young lives blighted with criminal records and community relations compromised - these are the product of that decision and its aftermath."

Mr Robinson said only a collective approach would be enough to resolve issues in Northern Ireland, adding: "Precipitating a crisis by voting to take the Union flag down from city hall and then expecting everyone else to pick up the pieces is not a recipe for success".

There are enough problems in our society to be sorted out without trying to fix things that weren't broken in the first place.

Peter Robinson

The DUP leader said Stormont "isn't all we would wish it to be", but said it underpins peace, stability and prosperity.

During the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis earlier this month, Martin McGuinness said he felt some unionists were in power because they have to be.

Apparently refuting these comments, on Saturday Mr Robinson said: "Six years after we restored devolution and entered the Executive, some have questioned our commitment to this process.

"The real question is not whether we want to be in government or have to be in government; the fact is the people of Northern Ireland need us to be in government."

The question mark over the devolution of corporation tax continues to loom over Northern Ireland's ministers, and Mr Robinson said if that did happen the region could become the UK's "economic miracle".

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers revealed ministers in England and Northern Ireland are set to further discuss the issue.

Mr Robinson explained: "I know how much we already have to offer. The addition of a low rate of corporation tax would make our pitch unbeatable at home and abroad.

"It is disappointing that some have already given up the battle. Perhaps that would be the safe thing to do."

It is hoped that bringing Northern Ireland's rate into line with the 12.5% tax in the Republic would make the region more attractive to foreign investment.

But Mr Robinson said the time is now.

"I further believe that if the power to enable us to set a lower level of corporation tax is not devolved by this present government - during this present parliament - it will never be delivered by any future government, at least, not within my political lifetime," he added.


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