independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Unionists seek to end flag furore

Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt are to set up a Stormont forum to focus on the flag issue and other areas of concern within loyalism

Unionist political leaders have unveiled proposals they hope will persuade loyalists to end their ongoing protests in Northern Ireland over flying the Union flag.

Stormont First Minister and Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson and Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt are to set up a Stormont forum to focus on the flag issue and other areas of concern within loyalism.

Representatives from within the loyalist community will be invited to attend and put their views across. The first meeting could be held before Christmas, but a more likely timetable would see proceedings convened early in the new year.

The anticipated development was announced after another night of violent scenes across Northern Ireland linked to the flag dispute.

More than 40 police officers have been injured in almost three weeks of disturbances - first triggered when Belfast City Council voted to reduce the number of days the Union flag flies on City Hall.

As well as the flag issue, the forum will examine unionist and loyalist concerns on how contentious loyal order parades are managed by the authorities.

Other stated objectives include looking at how to increase voter turnout and registration in unionist areas and exploring ways of strengthening British cultural identity in Northern Ireland.

Mr Robinson said the forum offered a genuine alternative to street demonstrations.

"I think we have to rationally look at what is the purpose of a protest," said the DUP leader. A protest is a vehicle to highlight an issue which needs to be addressed - they have done that and we have indicated how it might be addressed.

"I think it's reasonable in those circumstances therefore to say to people now that there is a mechanism for engagement, now there is a process of which people can be a part, then let's put off those protests."

Press Association

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