First Minister urges loyalists to call off flag protests after attacks on Alliance Party offices
Loyalists were urged last night to cancel further street demonstrations in the North over this week’s Belfast City Council decision to restrict the flying of the union flag.
Amid fears of further violence following attacks on Alliance Party offices, the North’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, called on protesters to suspend their action. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton is due to visit Northern Ireland today and is expected to endorse appeals for calm.
Alliance Party members have been targeted at their homes and offices. It follows the party’s backing for a reduction in the number of days on which the flag can be flown from Belfast City Hall each year.
Trouble initially flared on Monday night after a protest outside the city council meeting which ratified the decision.
An Alliance Party office in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, was ransacked and destroyed during trouble when about 1,500 loyalists gathered on Wednesday. Police were attacked with missiles including pieces of masonry, and a number of officers sustained injuries.
In Bangor, Co Down, the home of Michael and Christine Bower, a married couple who are both Alliance Party councillors, was attacked. Paint was thrown at the property, and a front window was smashed.
It has also emerged that an Alliance Party councillor who spoke during the flag debate at the city council meeting on Monday has been forced to leave her home. Laura McNamee (27), was told by police that she had been threatened by loyalists.
An Alliance Party spokesman said: “I can confirm that a threat has been made against her. It was a specific threat identifying her on Facebook. Police have advised her to stay somewhere else.”
There have been threats by loyalists to hold a mass demonstration in Belfast city centre tomorrow, one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr warned: “To encourage thousands of people to come to Belfast city centre on one of the busiest days of the year would be madness.”
Mr Robinson said the action should be abandoned. “My advice is that street protests should be suspended by those responsible for organising them in the wider interests of a peaceful society and to ensure their protests are not used by others to launch a campaign of violence,” he said.
“Britishness will not be progressed by acts of violence. Anyone engaging in wanton violence or intimidation does not defend our national flag but disgraces it.” – Additional reporting: PA