Political forum to meet as flag battle rages


The DUP and Ulster Unionist Party leaders Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt have convened a meeting of the Unionist Forum as Belfast suffered a sixth consecutive night of violence last night.

The forum, which Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt announced before Christmas as a possible means of defusing loyalist anger over the flag controversy, will meet for the first time at Stormont tomorrow morning.

There was further trouble in east Belfast last night when petrol bombs and fireworks were thrown at police lines by protesting loyalists on the Lower Newtownards Road, the scene of many disturbances in recent weeks.

Purpose of forum

As a number of protests continued last night Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt said the forum’s purpose was to engage with the entire unionist community. Its membership has not been fully established yet but it is expected that all the unionist political parties including the Progressive Unionist Party, which is linked to the UVF, the Traditional Unionist Voice and representatives from the loyal orders including the Orange Order will be invited to tomorrow’s meeting.

Addressing issues

The two leaders want the forum to be a vehicle for addressing issues such as flags, parading, deprivation and educational underachievement in the unionist community, strengthening British cultural identity, and persuading more unionists to vote.

Mr Robinson added yesterday: “As time goes on, the reasonable people, whilst still angry about the flags issue, don’t want to be involved with the violence happening on a day-to-day basis.”

Today is the first day, since Belfast City Council made its December 3rd decision, that the British union flag has been raised over city hall. As part of the designated days system the flag is flying to mark the birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton. This year there are 18 designated days for flying the flag.