Anger over Maskey comments
The DUP has made an official complaint to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s standards and privileges committee after Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey said if he lived in the Short Strand area of east Belfast he would “be throwing stones” against loyalists who were attacking the homes of local nationalists.
The South Belfast MLA refused on a number of occasions today to retract the comments he made on UTV last night about the continuing loyalist protests and violence over limiting the occasions on which the British union flag flies over Belfast City Hall.
On the UTV Live programme not long after more trouble in east Belfast, including a loyalist attack on homes in Short Strand, it was put to Mr Maskey, a former Northern Ireland Policing Board member, that nationalists were also throwing missiles at loyalist protesters.
Mr Maskey said there was an “ongoing assault” against the Short Strand community. “What we’ve been hearing tonight is people from the Short Strand throwing stones back and, if they are, they’re defending their homes,” he said.
“And if I lived in the Short Strand, I’d be throwing the stones along with those people - because it’s disgraceful what those families are having to put up with,” added Mr Maskey.
The DUP said it reported the remarks to the Stormont standards and privileges commissioner in a formal complaint.
North Down MLA Peter Weir said he wanted a full investigation into whether Mr Maskey breached the Assembly code of conduct.
“Elected representatives have a duty to give leadership and promote good relations by upholding the rule of law,” Mr Weir said.
“All violence is wrong and police officers in particular have borne the brunt of this with many officers injured by the very stones Mr Maskey talked of. He must now immediately withdraw the comments and apologise for his outburst.”
Last night homes and a Catholic church in the Short Strand were attacked with petrol bombs, bricks and bottles.
Yesterday PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott apologised to Short Strand residents whose homes were attacked on Saturday.
Unionists living in the lower Newtownards Road area of east Belfast claim their homes have been frequently attacked with golf balls, bricks and fireworks thrown from the Short Strand.
Earlier, during an Assembly debate on peace and democracy, MLAs were urged to condemn all types of violence at all times.
Mr Maskey’s comments during a television interview were earmarked for particular criticism from unionists.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said: “I was shocked to watch the discussion on the late news on UTV last night, to hear Alex Maskey, a member of this House, state that if he lived in the Short Strand, he would be out throwing stones at the street protests.
“I condemn the violence visited upon the residents of the Short Strand. Why does Mr Maskey condone the violence coming out of the Short Strand?”
However, UUP MLA Michael Copeland said he understood why Mr Maskey said what he did.
Mr Maskey told MLAs no one in the Short Strand should stone another Protestant home but stood over the statement.
He added: “I’m making it very, very clear - I want not one stone thrown. But you cannot fault a family who has no other option other than to defend their home.”
The Assembly code of conduct states that elected members must act in a way that promotes good relations. It also provides guidance on leadership and public duty.
Additional reporting: PA