Halt to protests over flags urged
Street protests should stop to allow politicians an opportunity to reach a deal over the divisive flags issue, Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers said last night.
In a joint statement Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said the loyalist pickets over flags were hurting the local economy.
“We recognise and support the right to peaceful protest but the way forward is through dialogue,” the ministers’ statement said.
“The current protests are damaging Christmas trade and the local economy as well as disrupting people’s daily lives. An absence of street protests would provide the space to allow us all to work together to find an agreed solution.”
Loyalists have mounted pickets all over Northern Ireland every day for the past fortnight after a controversial vote limited the number of days the Union flag could be flown over Belfast City Hall.
Almost 30 police officers have been injured during trouble which flared at some of the demonstrations.
Up to 40 people have been arrested for a range of public order offences and a number of elected representatives, including the cross-community Alliance Party MP Naomi Long, have been issued with death threats.
This weekend peace campaigners staged two rallies at the gates of Belfast City Hall and called for an end to the unrest.
On Saturday, Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson said he believed the process that led to restrictions on the flying of the Union flag was illegal and would be challenged. He suggested there could be a development on the issue this week.
Loyalists have said on social media websites they intend to organise more protests for the days ahead.