Loyalist leaders appeal for peace
Loyalist leaders in East Belfast have called for an end to “pointless” violence related to the Union flag controversy.
Church leaders and community workers united to appeal for peace following weeks of rioting. “This plea is about stopping the pointless violence, fear and wanton destruction being caused by a few,” they said.
Westbourne Presbyterian Church minister Mervyn Gibson, Methodist Church leader on the Lower Newtownards Road Gary Mason and loyalist community worker Jim Wilson endorsed the peace statement at the East Belfast Mission. Leaflets are now being distributed, calling for an end to the trouble.
A total of 41 organisations and churches backed the initiative. They said they support the right to peaceful and legal protests.
“The people of East Belfast plead that those involved in the current rioting stop now. We would add that those who come into the area to riot and cause disturbance are not welcome,” they said.
Loyalist protesters have blocked roads causing massive traffic disruption while more than 100 police have been injured by petrol bombs and other missiles since the December 3rd vote by Belfast City Council to restrict flag flying to designated days.
Earlier today Minister for Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore met political leaders in Northern Ireland to discuss the ongoing unrest.
Mr Gilmore held talks with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Minister, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, at Stormont this morning.
Speaking after the meeting, the Tánaiste said: "Today’s meeting provided a welcome and .timely opportunity to discuss the recent flag protests with the Secretary of State and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and review developments towards calming the situation. We stand ready to work to repair any damage done to the economy of Northern Ireland and the negative impact of the current unrest on Northern Ireland’s international reputation."
He said the two governments had reaffirmed their commitment "to support the efforts of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to resolve the current crisis and to work closely together to identify ways to address not just the current crisis but its underlying causes".
Ms Villiers said: “The message that we would both like to take out here to the wider community and to the wider world is one that the violence is intolerable and these protests have to come off the streets. They have to be replaced by dialogue.
“But I think we should also keep this in proportion and reassure the rest of the world that Northern Ireland is still a great place to do business in and still a great place to visit."
Ms Villiers said she was confident the political parties will find a way forward in Northern Ireland "to addressing the kind of concerns that have been addressed in recent weeks".
Mr Gilmore told Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams this week that while people had a right to protest against the democratic decision of Belfast City Council, they were “not entitled to fire petrol bombs at the police and intimidate and threaten elected public representatives”.
Mr Adams said the “violent sectarian reaction” and “illegal protests must be brought to an end before someone is killed”.
He highlighted the Belfast Agreement’s position on flags and emblems, that they should be “used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division”.