PATRICK Clarke, Alliance Party South Down spokesperson and a Down District Councillor, has responded to recent statements by the DUP and UKIP in Down News over the flag row at Belfast City Hall.
As the flag furore aftermath continues to cause political, social and economic problems, much recrimination and counter-recrimination is ongoing in the media. It is an issue that has been simmering for many years and remains unresolved and goes right to the heart of the nature of Northern Ireland society itself.
Speaking to Down News, Councillor Patrick Clarke said: “The original motion which brought Belfast City Council to remove the flag was not brought by the Alliance Party, rather by Sinn Fein and the SDLP. When it was tabled Alliance followed long-standing party policy by putting forward an amendment which ensured that the Union Flag would fly at Belfast City Hall on designated days.
“Designated days are laid out by the Westminster Department for Culture, Media and Sport and as has been Alliance policy since 2002. This amendment was also in line with the recommendations of the Equality Commission.
“The principle of Designated Days is in line with the Stormont Assembly and other 26 Councils in Northern Ireland such as Lisburn, where the DUP hold an outright majority, and where senior members of the DUP including Edwin Poots voted for designated days. Designated days are also the law on all central government buildings in Northern Ireland.”
Regarding the issue of leaflets that were alleged to be distributed around Belfast calling for the flag to be flown 365 days a year, Councillor Clarke explained that “40,000 leaflets were distributed across Belfast containing bogus information and deliberately misleading statistics.
“The leaflets set out to target Alliance, set in Alliance colours quoting Alliance slogans and targeting Naomi Long MP.”
“They served only to whip up tensions ahead of the vote which has spilled over firstly into protests and now into violence on our streets, attacks on elected representatives, their offices and homes, and an attack on democracy itself.”
Councillor Clarke vehemently opposed the use of violence in public protests and said: “Attacks on elected representatives is totally unacceptable. This violence must stop. There is no justification for the attack on any elected representatives from whatever political background or party, their homes or offices. This is a fundamental attack on democracy that must be condemned by all citizens.”
“Alliance will not be intimidated by this violence. We will continue to work on behalf of all members of the public from all backgrounds. These attacks will not stop the party from working to deliver a shared future, which we truly need after the past week of trouble.
“I would urge all of those who have orchestrated these protests and attacks to call an end to this trouble.”
“The blame for attacks on elected representative lies ultimately with those who engage in the violence and intimidation. Indirectly, however, the DUP and UUP apparently distributed bogus leaflets across loyalist areas in Belfast ahead of the December meeting of Belfast City Council which targeted Alliance. it should come as no surprise that those who received these leaflets then targeted Alliance. They cannot expect to whip up tensions and encourage people to protest and then wipe their hands of any involvement.”
Following the outbreak of public order scenes in Belfast and across the Province, the incidence of attacks on PSNI officers rose significantly and Councillor Clarke has strongly spoken against this violence. He said:
“The PSNI serve everybody in the community. There can never be any justification for any attack on our police officers. Attacks serve no purpose and must be condemned by all. While I respect the right to peaceful protest, it is clear that there is a need for these protests to end due to the violence and the increased tensions on the streets.
“Protests are incapable of being regarded as peaceful as too readily spill over into violence or blocking of roads. Protests outside places of work of Alliance staff constitutes intimidation. This even more the case with protests outside people’s homes.
“I have to ask the question, is this the DUP leader Peter Robinson’s view of a shared future? Or is it just the DUP, UUP and TUV working together”
“Peter Robinson as First Minister should be seeking to bring everyone in Northern Ireland together, not just Unionists.”
“The DUP have since raised a proposal to review when the flag should fly from Parliament Buildings, ‘with a view to increasing the number of days.’
“This proposal is unhelpful and destabilising at a critical time following the attempted murder of a police officer. Now is the time for Unionists to show some leadership, to move to stabilise the situation and to stop stoking up tensions.”
As the flag’s issue and the sectarian cliff issues continues to engage everyone in Northern Ireland, Councillor Clarke said: “You cannot be seen to give in to mob rule. Whilst rioting, mobs and illegal protests continue on our streets calling for the flag to be flown we cannot be seen to be having these discussions. Mob rule cannot dictate what we discuss in a democratic society.”