Ed Jacobs reports on the latest from Northern Ireland, with yet more disturbances over the Belfast flag dispute.
Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday united in their condemnation of ongoing violence across Northern Ireland following the decision by Belfast city council last week that the Union flag would fly over the Town Hall on designated days only.
In opening a debate on a joint motion brought forward by himself and first minister Peter Robinson condemning the violence and the death threats brought against mainly Alliance politicians for backing the council motion, Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness declared there can be no reluctance to condemn events across Northern Ireland.
Addressing a specially convened session at Stormont, he explained:
“There can be no excuses for street violence that has left 28 police officers injured, Belfast city council staff injured, drivers of cars and buses intimidated and threatened.
“There can be no ifs or buts – it must be condemned plain and simple.”
Recognising the harm the violence will have done to Northern Ireland’s reputation around the world, McGuinness declared:
“…but repair it we must.”
Whilst recognising the right to protest peacefully, Peter Robinson went on to echo the voices of condemnation, declaring in no uncertain terms:
“People have no right to attack elected representatives just because they do not share the same views.”
The debate was preceeded by reports yesterday on the BBC that:
“A loyalist who made a speech to protesters in front of Belfast City Hall during Saturday’s union flag demonstration was Jim Dowson, a former fundraiser for the British National Party.”
No sooner, however, had politicians united at Stormont in their condemnation, than:
• The streets of Belfast and elsewhere witnessed an eighth night of violence which saw police facing attacks from petrol bombs outside the office of Alliance MP for Belfast East Naomi Long, who has received a death threat over her party’s support for the motion at Belfast council;
• Two guns and a bomb were found in Lurgan;
• A court where three men have appeared in connection with the discovery of an armour-piercing rocket in Londonderry prior to Hillary Clinton’s visit last week heard the device contained Semtex explosive.
Meanwhile, following comments by the one time UUP leadership contender, Basil McCrea, to the BBC’s Nolan Show on Friday that the Alliance was right to support the motion at Belfast council that the British flag should fly only on designated days, the city’s three UUP councillors have called for him to be disciplined.
Calling for an immediate end to the “folly”, the Belfast Telegraph, in its editorial, concludes:
“People outside the Province cannot begin to understand why there is so much mayhem over the flying of a flag, and they may conclude the Northern Ireland peace process is much more vulnerable than it appeared just over a week ago.
“This is a time for politicians at all levels and on all sides to step back and to take a hard look at what they can do to bring an end to this crisis.
“This is no time for further recriminations or political points-scoring. For the sake of every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland, it is time to stop this utter madness. The more it continues, the worse it will be for all of us.”
It comes as it emerged yesterday David Cameron will on Wednesday personally deliver a statement on the publication of the year long inquiry into the murder in 1989 of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane who was shot 14 times in front of his family by loyalist paramilitaries.