Parties urged to resolve flag dispute


Efforts to end weeks of street protests over the flying of the union flag over Belfast City Hall must be led by political parties in the North, not London, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has said.

Describing the protests as “intolerable and unacceptable”, Ms Villiers said decisions about flags must be made “with respect” for different points of view: “Arguably, there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” she told the House of Commons.

Responding to criticism that prime minister David Cameron had not taken a direct interest in the crisis, the Northern Secretary said she had spoken to him on the issue three times since protests began six weeks ago.

Disaffected youth

Labour’s Peter Hain, a former Northern Secretary, said Ms Villiers’s decision to deplore the violence was “the easy bit”, and he urged her to meet loyalist groups, such as the Ulster Defence Association, who “feel excluded” from the political process. “Some of the young republicans – and in recent times the young loyalists – involved in this violent activity have no stake in the society. That does not justify their violence but it does explain why it is happening,” he said.

Condemning the violence, Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: “The decision of Belfast City Council to remove the union flag was not about consensus politics; in fact, it was a reversion to the very thing the nationalists say they detest – majority rule.

“We need to build a consensus, and unionists must be included in such sensitive issues. If we exclude one community, we get not consensus but confrontation.”

Labour MP Kate Hoey said many Northern unionists were “bewildered” that the British government and Labour were prepared to campaign to keep Scotland part of the UK “while in Northern Ireland we are talking about a shared future”.