Loyalists pledge to bring Union flag protest to Dublin


Ulster loyalists are to bring their protest to Leinster House and to ask for the Tricolour to be lowered, it has emerged.

As a major rally was organised for outside Belfast City Hall tomorrow, plans were also under way for 150 loyalists to travel to Leinster House later this week.

The group will ask "sarcastically" for the Irish flag to be taken down and will hand in a letter for Taoiseach Enda Kenny, asking him to "honour his commitment" to meet again with those representing the victims of the Kingsmills atrocity. The group met with Mr Kenny last September to ask for a formal apology over IRA activity.

Organiser Willie Frazer – who was behind the 2006 'Love Ulster' parade in Dublin – told The Irish Times that the trip was intended in a "spirit of respect".

He said: “When we ask for the Tricolour to be taken down, it’s a tongue-in-cheek gesture. It’s to give Irish people a sense of how we feel.

"I would be very offended if I was living in Ireland and someone came and asked me to take the flag down. That’s exactly how we feel in Belfast. People keep telling us we’re still part of the UK, yet here we are without a flag."

It is envisaged that three busloads of protesters – one from Belfast, one from Co Armagh and one from Co Derry/Tyrone – will make the journey over the next seven days for an hour-long protest outside Leinster House.

They hope to bus directly to the protest, rather than parading through the city-centre. The 'Love Ulster' parade had to be cancelled after rioting broke out among republican protesters.

Meanwhile, thousands of loyalists are expected to congregate outside Belfast City Hall at 1pm tomorrow. Protests in the North have resumed after a Christmas lull and there has been some trouble.

Yesterday evening, 10 police officers were injured and two protesters were arrested after rioting in east Belfast. At one stage a road was blocked by a burning car in the Templemore Avenue area. A mob of about 100 pelted officers with bricks, bottles and petrol bombs.

Motorists were diverted away from the disorder - the latest outbreak since last month’s City Hall decision.

Two people were arrested. Christopher Shires (23), appeared in court today. He was refused bail and remanded in custody until next month. A 16-year-old is due in court later this month.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton called the recent violence "despicable".

Loyalist community worker Jim Wilson said it was about "so much more" than the flag issue. "This has been building up for years,” he told The Irish Times. "Republicans are getting everything their own way. Ten per cent of protesters are out to stir things up and antagonise. The other 90 per cent are genuinely hurt."

First Minister Peter Robinson said violence against the police is a “disgrace, criminally wrong and cannot be justified”.

“Those responsible are doing a grave disservice to the cause they claim to espouse and are playing into the hands of those dissident groups who would seek to exploit every opportunity to further their terror aims,” he said.

Some demonstrators were employing language borrowed from the republican handbook to demonise police and undermine the DUP through a call for direct rule from London, Mr Robinson added.

“All right-thinking unionists will want to channel their energies into political activity and to support the cause of finding political solutions to the problems that we face.

“In Northern Ireland the ballot box has primacy and is the only vehicle for choosing the people’s representatives.”

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