Gilmore urges North's politicians to stand together

Thu, Jan 17, 2013, 00:00

Political leaders in Northern Ireland need to “stand shoulder to shoulder” to deal with the violent protests over flying the Union flag, the Tánaiste has told the Dáil. “I do not want to see this matter long-fingered,”Eamon Gilmore said. “We want to deal with it now.”

The Government was working with Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to “provide support to the political leadership and the Northern Ireland executive in order to get on top of the situation and put an end to the street violence that has been taking place”.

Crisis talks

Mr Gilmore will be in Belfast today to discuss the crisis with Ms Villiers and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

Department of Foreign Affairs officials, who on Tuesday visited the nationalist Short Strand area of Belfast, “continue to work closely with the British government and political representatives in Northern Ireland to identify ways to address not just the current crisis but also its underlying problems”.

Mr Gilmore told Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams 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”.

British protocols

He said the decision to restrict flag flying to designated days was in accordance with protocols applying in Britain.

The Tánaiste said the Government had “no closer political relationship than with the Northern Ireland Executive”.

The persistence of sectarianism in the North and the “absence of agreement on the shared future agenda contribute to the likelihood of incidents such as those we have witnessed in recent weeks”.

Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Smith later said it was not a question of emblems or street violence, “it is about improving the lives of the people of Northern Ireland”.

He said political leaders needed to hear the message of SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell, who described the Executive as “the stagnation of a complacent and paralysed institution which is not delivering to the people in the areas for which it has responsibility”.