Trimble accuses DUP over protests
Northern Ireland’s former first minister David Trimble today accused the Democratic Unionist Party of “cynically” stoking tensions over the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.
Lord Trimble said he suspected the row was linked to DUP efforts to win back a parliamentary seat in its former East Belfast stronghold from the Alliance Party.
He said that Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers may have to step in and extend legislation governing the flying of flags over government buildings like Stormont so that it also covers City Hall.
The Conservative peer told BBC Radio 4 : “I am surprised there is a problem, because the issue could have been foreseen, a compromise was available. It seems rather strange the compromise has not been accepted.
“It’s really strange that some parties who sit at Stormont and accept for government buildings the designated flag days, are out encouraging protests against designated days in other public buildings. It’s a pity some parties are now not accepting that compromise.”
The former Ulster Unionist Party leader said it made him suspect parties had “other motives”.
“I cannot avoid looking at the fact that the Alliance Party, who provided the majority for this compromise at City Hall, is the party that defeated the DUP in east Belfast in the parliamentary election,” he said.
“I wonder if this is something to do with trying to regain support that went to the Alliance Party at that stage. In which case I think it’s a really quite cynical thing for them to be doing.”
Last week’s decision to limit the number of days the Union flag is flown at City Hall was followed by protests which sometimes flared into violence. At least 29 police officers have been injured and 38 people arrested, while Alliance Party premises have been targeted by loyalists.
Meanwhile the leaders of the DUP and UUP have reiterated their call for an end to the protests.
DUP leader Peter Robinson and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said if protests were held in spite of their advice it was up to the judgement of their representatives whether they should attend, as long as they were certain they would be peaceful and lawful.
Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt have been holding a series of meetings with loyalist community figures in a bid to devise a political strategy to address their concerns.
They said they would announce a new initiative when their discussions were finalised early next week.
In a joint statement, Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt said: “In the past two weeks, because of our concern that protests may lead to violence or civil disturbance, we have asked organisers to suspend their protests.
“It remains our view that the cause is best served by moving beyond protest and to a political solution.
“For our part, we share the stated aim of the protests to defend the Union Flag.
“We not only acknowledge but defend people’s right to lawfully protest and have indicated that if, in spite of our advice, protests are organised by others and where our representatives are certain that a protest will be conducted in a completely peaceful and lawful manner, it is a matter for their own judgment as to whether or not they should attend.
“In addition where, as has been the case on a number of occasions, the police have asked our representatives to seek to play a role in ensuring that a protest remains lawful, we support them carrying out such a function.
“As political leaders our task is to ensure that we find a political solution to the problems that we face and to ensure peace and stability for the people of Northern Ireland.”
They added: “We also intend to engage constructively with other parties outside the unionist community with a view to making progress in shaping a better future for us all.
“We believe that it is in the interest of the entire community that the difficulties of the past few weeks are resolved to the satisfaction of everyone.”