Politicians and church leaders press for resolution
Efforts continued over the weekend to end the violence in Belfast. Politicians and church leaders held talks at the Rev Mervyn Gibson’s Westbourne Presbyterian Church in an attempt to find a compromise.
But Robin Newton, of the Democratic Unionist Party, said a lack of engagement from protest organisers was making it difficult to see an end to the unrest. “We have to find a way out of this, but how we do it I don’t know,” he said.
The East Belfast MLA said there was confusion about exactly what demonstrators wanted, amid calls for an end to devolution.
Alliance party MP for East Belfast Naomi Long has described the situation in that part of the city where loyalists have rioted on three consecutive nights as “very dangerous and very volatile”. She said calm and “cool heads are required”, not lashing out at the police.
Ms Long added: “We cannot resolve difficulties and tensions while there is violence on the streets and while people are not actually engaging with their political leadership.”
First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson has already referred to the violence and destruction visited on the PSNI as “a disgrace, criminally wrong and cannot be justified”. The DUP leader said those responsible were doing a grave disservice to the cause they claimed to espouse and were playing into the hands of dissident groups trying to exploit any opportunity to further their terror aims.
“The real purpose of those who claim to speak for some of the organisers of the protests is fast becoming clear. It is a straight-forward politically motivated attempt to undermine the DUP as the voice of unionism despite our attempts to oppose the removal of the union flag in Belfast,” he said.
Some loyalists have expressed disaffection with the mainstream unionist parties – the DUP and the Ulster Unionists – and their joint proposal of a unionist forum, designed to address long-standing concerns within the loyalist community.
Now a different group, formed from individuals involved with the ongoing flag protests, has sought to assume a leadership role. The Ulster People’s Forum wants a return to direct rule and for the union flag to be flown from every council building in Northern Ireland.
Victims campaigner Willie Frazer, who has links to the Ulster People’s Forum, and who was also behind the Love Ulster parade in Dublin in 2006, plans to lead a group of loyalists to the Dáil next weekend. They aim to stage a protest about the restrictions on the union flag at Belfast City Hall and ask for the Tricolour to be lowered at Leinster House.