'Constructive' talks on flags - Gilmore
Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers with loyalist community leader John Bunting in Alexandra Park, North Belfast, during a recent visit where she met with local community groups. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he has had a “very constructive discussion” on the issue of the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall during his meeting today with Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers.
The Tánaiste admitted political representatives had been taken aback at the ferocity of the street violence following the flags row at City Hall. But he said the dispute had to be put in context.
“The numbers are small and there should be a distinction between those who cause trouble and those who legitimately protest. They do have a right to protest in a democracy. Where it became problematic was when it became violent.”
He praised community leaders and workers for the strenuous efforts at street level and stressed the need to support the police on both sides of the Border.
"The quad meeting with First Minister [Peter Robinson] and Deputy First Minister recently was very productive,” Ms Villiers noted, adding the Northern Executive was committed to addressing concerns underlying the recent protests and tensions over flags.
It was vital that everyone addressed the need to build a shared future in Northern Ireland and insisted further EU funding for the PEACE programme worth €150 million will play a part in the effort.
She said there was “major support for the parties” in Northern Ireland on the issue of a shared future and in their efforts to tackle street demonstrations.
Looking ahead to this summer’s loyalist marching, the Northern Secretary said it was essential there was widespread backing for the Parades Commision in the months ahead.
The commission, which rules on contested parades, had to have the space to carry out its work. At the same time, public representatives and the public itself had to work to “tackle the underlying environment which gives rise to violence”.
Ms Villiers stressed the benefits of the Belfast Agreement insisting that it provides “constitutional protection for Britishness and for Irishness”.
She said that “talking down the peace process and what it delivered” was misconceived.