Calls for an end to protests

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POLITICIANS have repeated their calls for protests over the Union Flag to end.

East Belfast MP Naomi Long said the latest rioting and reports of shots being fired “mark a new low and must be unequivocally condemned”.

“As Alliance has continuously said, these protests need to stop, as they are creating an environment in which violence can erupt, and putting lives and livelihoods in jeopardy,” she said.

“Peaceful and lawful protest is part of the democratic process, but the frequency with which the law is being broken by blocking roads and damaging property, and the repeated deterioration of protests into riots, means that it is irresponsible to continue to bring people on to the streets.”

UUP Lisburn Councillor Ronnie Crawford said the continuing violence and anarchy surrounding objections to the decision of Belfast City Council not to fly the Union Flag every day “is making it impossible for other councils to consider changing their policies as desired by the protesters”.

He said: “To change policy now in the face of shootings, petrol bombings, stone-throwing and the illegal obstruction of the Queen’s highway would be seen as a reward for anarchy. It is unfortunate that Belfast City Councillors voted, without a period of due notice of policy implementation, giving Sinn Fein an immediate propaganda victory which it has used to the full. The use of the Union Flag in demonstrations involving incidents of law-breaking devalues the flag as much as the actions of Belfast City Council and councillors should be allowed to determine their own council policies in an atmosphere free from the unedifying scenes of the past few weeks.”

Conall McDevitt, SDLP policing spokesman, urged unionist leaders to reject the protests “before someone is killed or seriously injured”.

He said the firing of shots at police officers ended any claim to legitimacy by protest organisers.

“Whatever grievance some people may have had, it is totally lost when they allow people to use these protests as cover for attempted murder,” said the South Belfast MLA.

Meanwhile East Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile said: “History shows us when unionism doesn’t get its way it resorts to violence, intimidation and terror. The recent violent attacks at the interface at Short Strand have been little more than a sectarian attempt to intimidate and terrorise the local Catholic population.

“The reality is people have had enough of these small unrepresentative groups, directed by loyalist paramilitaries, holding the rest of us to ransom.”