STRENUOUS efforts are being made at grassroots level to lower tensions in east Belfast arising from the continuing Union Flag protests, with the main thrust aimed at halting the violence that has had a very negative impact at the Ballymacarrett/Short Strand flashpoint.
Another meeting of unionist politicians, Protestant church and loyalist community representatives was held and a leaflet was distributed calling for an end to the violence.
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, who visited opposite sides of the east Belfast divide, said it is time for political dialogue to replace street protests. In comments, she appeared keen on dialogue that might resolve issues of British identity, symbols and flags – something unionists believe it is her job to robustly defend.
Her call will be echoed by Stormont politicians. However, a mainland Tory politician such as Ms Villiers has very limited influence on what happens in loyalist working class districts and continuing dialogue among indigenous stakeholders holds out the best chance for calming things down.
Indeed, the Rev Gary Mason, from East Belfast Mission, says there is a sustained effort by churches, community folk and those involved in loyalism. “The plea is we are asking that the violence within east Belfast comes to an end.”
In the city centre, traders are focused on how they can revitalise their businesses after weeks of disruption and loss of trade due to the protests. Our economy is badly hit by effects of the upheaval and there has to be an immediate turnaround with a first priority being open and direct access to all roads and business outlets.