New flag protest group want ‘direct rule’

General view of the Castlereagh Street area of East Belfast following disturbances between Loyalist protestors and PSNI officers
General view of the Castlereagh Street area of East Belfast following disturbances between Loyalist protestors and PSNI officers

A NEW committee of flag protestors elected on Thursday night, have called for a return to direct rule, but politicians say they are committed to the Unionist Forum set up by the UUP and DUP.

A DUP spokesman said the Unionist Forum unveiled by DUP leader Peter Robinson and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt before Christmas, would continue to engage with those involved in the flag protests.

The spokesman said: “When the proposals for a Unionist Forum were launched in December, its intention was to seek to engage with the entire unionist community, address issues of concern and channel unionist efforts through political means was made clear. Officials continue to work on the logistical arrangements.”

Details of the proposed umbrella group – dubbed the ‘People’s Forum’ – were revealed in Wednesaday’s News Letter.

Speaking ahead of last night’s meeting, victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer described it as an opportunity for protestors to co-ordinate and make their voices heard. “This is about formulating an umbrella group, involving all those who have been involved in the protests over the last few weeks, and there will be further meetings in other parts of the country, before this umbrella group is formed,” he said.

Mr Frazer, who has spoken at 47 protests, said there was “no appointed leader” and that the meeting was for “ordinary people who want to make their voices heard. The one thing that I have been hearing time and again from those at the protests, is that they feel the politicians are not listening.

“The flag taken down at Belfast City Hall was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but this has been brewing for some time. People are fed up, they are fed up being ignored, while their British culture and identity is being chipped away.”

Mr Frazer who is standing as a candidate for the Mid-Ulster Westminster seat vacated by Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, said he had no interest in forming a new political party, as a result of the flag protests.

“I have seen how the victims of the Troubles have been trampled on by the Stormont Executive, and that is why I am standing in the election as a voice for victims. Whatever comes out of these meetings and the umbrella group, the politicians at Stormont will have to sit up and take notice. There is no sign that the protests will end, I don’t think I have ever seen anything like this since the Anglo-Irish Agreement rallies in 1985, that’s how strong the feeling is out there.”

Tomorrow, protestors are planning to march to Belfast City Hall from four locations in the city, while demonstrations are expected in other towns across the Province.

As the News Letter was going to press last night Mr Frazer told this paper that a committee had been elected for the new forum and that he had been elected as an official spokesman.

“The organisation has been officially formed and we unanimously supported a call for a return to direct rule,” he said. “We also agreed that we will not be talking to politicians until they engage with people on the ground.”

He said short-term aims and objectives had also been agreed for the group. Mr Frazer went on to criticise the methods used by police last night in east Belfast.