UUP MLA Basil McCrea has said the “moral authority” of the Union flag protests has been lost and has criticised moves to have the flying of the flag reviewed at Stormont.
He said the last two weeks had been a “disaster for Northern Ireland”, adding that those who had been involved in distributing 40,000 leaflets in Belfast ahead of the vote at City Hall almost two weeks ago must take responsibility for their actions.
The former leadership candidate for the UUP accused them of having “reckless disregard” for public safety and said the situation had been dictated by party politics.
“Those that created this situation by the conduct and timing of the debate in Belfast City Council or by deliberately heightening tensions with the production and distribution of leaflets in Alliance colours should accept responsibility for their actions,” said Mr McCrea.
“The right to peaceful protests does not extend to targeting specific premises or individuals. That is intimidation. The moral authority for such protests has been lost, must cease immediately and should not be supported by elected representatives, particularly those from whom impartiality is expected.
“People’s fears have been exploited for political advantage,” he told the News Letter. “Ordinary people who just want to go about their daily business have not been heard. This has all been for petty short-term party gain.”
Mr McCrea reiterated his support for the Union Flag to fly on designated days through Northern Ireland.
“I am as committed to having the Union Flag flown on designated days in Strabane as at City Hall in Belfast,” he said.
Of the plans to resurrect the issue at Stormont Mr McCrea said: “Resolution of this issue will not be satisfactorily achieved by a pressured decision from the Assembly Commission or some rushed consultation. There are fundamental political divisions within our society which can only be resolved by all-party talks.
“The flags issue should be included in the CSI strategy, should cover the entirety of Northern Ireland and should be decided by the Assembly of Northern Ireland in a mature and democratic manner.”
On Tuesday, a move to discuss the flying of the Union Flag at Stormont failed to get off the ground, after Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance representatives failed to attend the meeting.
The DUP were intent on proposing a consultation on extending the number of days the Union Flag is flown at Parliament Buildings at a meeting of the Assembly Commission, the body which deals with the running of government buildings.
A joint statement from the unionist parties - which included the UUP - “deplored” the “boycott” from the three parties, who also backed the restrictions on the Union Flag at City Hall last Monday night.
The unionist parties are now demanding that a meeting of the Assembly Commission is rescheduled “no later than Friday”.
DUP leader Peter Robinson, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and TUV leader Jim Allister were joined by UKIP representative David McNarry and Independent David McClarty MLA at the meeting which failed to go ahead.