Friday 26 December 2014

Ulster politicians must work together to ease flag tensions, says British PM David Cameron

Tim Sculthorpe

Published 09/01/2013 | 13:54

NORTHERN IRELAND'S politicians must work to break down barriers of segregation to ease tensions in the province, David Cameron told MPs today.

Following six nights of fresh protests, some of which has been violent, in Belfast over a decision not to fly the Union Flag daily at City Hall the DUP's Parliamentary leader called for talks with the Prime Minister.

Nigel Dodds, MP for Belfast North, said measures to increase participation were needed - and criticised Sinn Fein for its continued refusal to take up seats in the Commons despite winning constituencies.

Mr Cameron said he was happy to take the meeting - but challenged politicians of all parties to help bring people together.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, Mr Dodds said: "More than ever in Northern Ireland, we seek to continue moving forward, away from violence and create stability.

"I'm sure you will agree with me that full participation in and support for the political and democratic process by everybody so people's issues can be addressed and politicians address those issues is absolutely vital.

"In that context, and the context of what's happening, will you agree to meet with us to discuss the forthcoming legislation in Northern Ireland so we can look at measures to increase democratic participation by people in deprived communities.

"(We need to) look at the deplorable state of the electoral register and also deal with the discrimination against elected members of this House from Northern Ireland who play by the rules while others get money whilst not taking their seats.

"All of that needs to be addressed."

Mr Cameron replied: "I'm happy to meet with you... I would throw back though part of the challenge to you and your party, just as I would to others in other parties, we need to build a shared future in Northern Ireland where we break down the barriers, barriers of segregation that have been in place for very many years.

"I think that is part of the challenge to take away some of the tensions we have seen in recent days."

The Union Flag is today flying over Belfast City Hall to mark the Duchess of Cambridge's 31st birthday.

A decision by councillors to restrict use of the flag to a series of specific days has sparked angry and sometimes violent protests - which have included death threats to several politicians.

Today's use of the flag is the first since the policy was changed last year.

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