independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Leaders urged to make united stand

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers meets Michael Copeland MLA in east Belfast

Northern Ireland politicians have been urged to make bold moves to end violent protests around the Union flag.

With senior figures from Stormont, Westminster and Dublin due in Belfast on Thursday for talks aimed at resolving the six-week loyalist stand-off, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called for a united approach.

Belfast traders are meeting for crisis talks after a slump inspired by the trouble threatened some businesses with closure.

Mr McGuinness said: "This is an occasion where we do need to be seen to be standing together - not just Peter Robinson and myself - but all the political leaders in the assembly need to be speaking with one voice and making it absolutely clear that we are not going to bow the knee to anti-democratic forces."

More than 100 police officers have been injured since demonstrations started on December 3 after Belfast city councillors voted to limit the number of days the flag is flown over City Hall.

Irish Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) Eamon Gilmore will travel to Belfast tomorrow to discuss the ongoing flag controversy with First Minister Peter Robinson, Mr McGuinness and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

Officials from the Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs have visited St Matthew`s Catholic Church and residents in the nationalist Short Strand, both attacked by loyalists.

Ms Villiers met community and church figures in Lower Newtownards Road, in East Belfast where the sectarian violence has been fiercest. She said it was important for all politicians to be forthright in condemning violence and called for real progress on building a shared society.

"I am encouraging them to continue to work together and send out a signal strongly that Northern Ireland is open for business," she said.

"They need to make progress on unfinished business for some in Northern Ireland. There remains deep-seated divisions on sectarian lines. It is hugely important we have bold moves to try and address that."

Press Association

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