Tensions high on flags issue

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WITH tensions running high in the area regarding the Union flag issue, local politicians have asked people to take a step “back from the brink”.

Loyalist protests took part in Lurgan and Donaghcloney last week while a church in Craigavon was attacked by republicans at the weekend.

Elsewhere in Northern Ireland councillors’ offices were attacked and trouble flared at some of the flag protests.

UUP Councillor Colin McCusker said: “The past week has not been good for Northern Ireland. I deplore and condemn without reservation the recent violence, threats and intimidation against elected representatives, and attacks against the police.

“My party call for an immediate end to such shameful illegality, and for all to behave in a manner that demonstrates the values that are encapsulated in the flag of the United Kingdom.

“Tensions are running high at the moment, and it’s vital that everyone steps back from the brink.”

He added: “The political process my party led to secure in the 1998 Agreement had the primary objective of offering an inclusive political process for all, making democracy the only means for promoting political objectives.

“The broader issue of flags will need to be resolved within the context of an agreement on a shared future, and a commitment to tackle sectarianism, which is the toxic legacy of our troubled past.”

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly commented: “The zero-sum politics of flags and symbols has been stoked by political unionism and unfortunately attacks such as this are occurring in that leadership vacuum.

“The SDLP is calling for restraint and respect from everybody and a willingness from political unionism that they will fully interact with the wider debate of a shared future without minimising this to ‘us-and-them’.”

Speaking as a group Craigavon DUP Councillors said: “This scenario has emanated from the intolerance of nationalists for anything British. The fact of the matter is we are an integral part of the United Kingdom and this is an expressed wish of the majority of people that live here.

“People are rightly very irate at this latest attempt by nationalists and others to try and erode our identity. This comes in the wake of the SDLP supporting the naming of a play park after a terrorist and their support for Gerry McGeogh who tried to murder our friend and colleague Councillor Sammy Brush.”

“We support people’s rights to protest but would urge them to do so peacefully. We as a group are supportive of our Unionist colleagues in Belfast who voted for the Union flag to remain flying from the City Hall. We remain committed to democratically advancing and securing Northern Ireland’s place within the Union and would encourage all to do so using the ballot box and exercising their right to vote.”