OPPOSITION is growing in the Unionist community to the decision to remove the Union flag from the Belast City Hall after a motion passed last week.
But in order to calm the potentially explosive political situation facing Northern Ireland, Unionist leaders Peter Robinson (DUP) and Mike Nesbitt (UUP) issued a joint statement today. They said: “It remains our view that the cause is best served by moving beyond protest and to a political solution.
“We are especially conscious of any impact on the business community in the vital weeks leading up to Christmas and wish to ensure that their business is not affected by either protests or the fear of disruption.
“On Monday we will complete our brief consultation with some of the key interested parties in the unionist community.
“Following that, we will agree a way forward which will facilitate the announcement of a new initiative, involving people from across the unionist community, that will chart a positive way ahead to address many of the issues of concern that have been raised in recent days.”
Retailers in Belfast and provincial towns have voiced their deep concerns at the continuing protests affecting their Christmas trading opportunities. Against this commercial pressure, senior politicians have been put in the spotlight to find a quick solution to the Belfast City Hall flag row.
Jim Wells Voices Support.
Senior DUP politician, South Down MLA Jim Wells, speaking on the wider issue and supporting the local Clough protest, said: “The decision to remove the Union flag from Belfast City Hall was a disgrace. All the evidence indicated that the public, staff and visitors had no problem whatsoever with its permanent display. Over 90% of those who responded to the public consultation on this issue stated that they wanted the flag to remain flying 365 days a year.
“The people of Belfast and all of Northern Ireland will have an opportunity to give their verdict on this important issue by ensuring that the Alliance Party is heavily defeated at the next election.
”All the protests in South Down have been entirely peaceful and I support the right of those who have been enraged by this decision to publicly demonstrate their opposition to it.
“The Unionist community have given and given over the last forty years. Our parades, flags,and cultural events have all been attacked by our opponents. The Belfast City Hall flag was for many the final straw and the entire Unionist family must now unite to stop any further erosion of our heritage”.
UKIP Rep Says Alliance Decision is ‘Deeply Worrying’.
UKIP Down District representative Alan Lewis also commented on the Clough protest on Thursday evening ((13 December) and said: “The Clough protests were attended by a wide selection of people from this district. It is deeply worrying that the Alliance Party which describes itself as an all inclusive organisation has become so out of touch with reality that they can make deeply divisive and destabilising decisions that can create turmoil throughout our country, and divide society.
“The Alliance now sound intent on dismissing the public’s right to protest and describe anyone who disagrees with them as thugs and criminals. I will be crystal clear on this… UKIP totally condemns any violence of any kind and where violence or threats do occur, we condemn it.
“However the vast majority of these protests aren’t organised nor attended by thugs and rioters as the Alliance leader Mr Ford puts it. The vast majority are local people of all ages and backgrounds who have a real fear that their cultural identity is being eroded.
“It’s of no surprise to me that we now have country-wide protests. The Union flag has flown over Belfast City Hall for over 100 years we all know the history of the city hall as the centre piece for the signing of the Ulster Covenant. Alliance knew fine well the symbolic significance of Belfast city hall to Unionism.
“The pan nationalist mask has slipped a long way… a play park in Newry being named after a terrorist gunman pushed through Newry and Mourne council by a united SDLP/SF front. On the very same night the union flag is removed from Belfast City Hall by a joint Alliance SF/IRA/SDLP front.
“There is a great deal of dissatisfaction within the Unionist community and I’m more than happy to stand with my fellow unionists at any protest within this district.”