Politicians call for halt to flag protests in North
Loyalist protests against restricting the flying of the Union flag over Belfast City Hall continued last night despite a joint appeal from First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for the demonstrations to cease.
Hundreds of loyalists participated in protests in various parts of Belfast and outside the city last night against the decision by the Sinn Féin, SDLP and Alliance members of Belfast City Council that the flag would fly on 15 designate days rather than all year round.
Major rush-hour traffic disruption was caused in areas of Belfast such as the Ormeau Road, the Newtownards Road, the Crumlin Road, Sandy Row, Mount Vernon, York Street and in Finaghy. Protests were also held in Derry, and in Ballyclare, Co Antrim.
Police came under attack on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast during the protests last night while one officer was injured in Sandy Row near the city centre when a crowd started firing bricks, fireworks and paint bombs. For a time barricades were set up across the Donegall Road near the City Hospital.
In Carrickfergus, Co Antrim a group of protesters disrupted a meeting of the local council.
Mr Robinson and other unionist politicians engaged in behind-the-scenes talks yesterday to try to develop a strategy that could see an end to the protests, sources said last night.
Politicians are trying to find some means of easing tensions and ending the protests that businesspeople say have cost Belfast several millions of pounds in lost trade.
The First Minister and Mr McGuinness issued a three-sentence statement calling for an alternative way forward. “We recognise and support the right to peaceful protest but the way forward is through dialogue,” they said.
“The current protests are damaging Christmas trade and the local economy as well as disrupting people’s daily lives,” added the two leaders.
Meanwhile PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Dave Jones said police were “determined to do everything we can to ensure people can go about their normal business”.