Irish Republican News · December 21, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Pan-unionism returns as Stormont flags talks stall


Multi-party talks on the flags issue at Stormont have been suspended until next year following an announcement that a forum to unite different forces within unionism has been organised.

The new ‘Unionist Forum’ is a reaction to recent loyalist anger at Belfast City Council’s decision to fly the British Union Jack on designated days only.

The council vote has led to more than two weeks of street protests across the north, many of which have turned violent.

In a joint statement, the DUP and Ulster Unionists said party leaders Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt would convene the forum at Stormont’s Parliament Buildings “as soon as is practicable”.

It followed talks involving the so-called UDA ‘brigadier’ for South Belfast Jackie McDonald and other loyalist figures.

It is expected to address the flags issue, sectarian parades, and measures to increase unionist voter registration and turnout. The forum will also examine ways of “strengthening British cultural identity” in the north of Ireland.

It is seen as another step towards a merger of the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP, as well as marking the closer involvement of former loyalist paramilitaries in mainstream unionist politics.

“The participants in the forum will be discussed at the first meeting,” Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt said in their statement. “The purpose of the forum will be to seek to engage with the entire unionist community and seek to address issues of concern.”

The statement said the forum would seek to “channel unionist efforts through political means”.


Meanwhile, seven hours of multi-party talks at Stormont resulted only in a pledge to resolve contentious issues of identity through legal means.

The North’s business community has urged politicians to act to end the disruption, which has sharply reduced pre-Christmas trade.

After sitting from 9.30am to nearly 5pm, the parties agreed not to comment and instead chose to release a joint statement.

“Party leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the rule of law and the primacy of the political process and deplored violence, attacks on the PSNI as well as threats to elected representatives,” the statement read.

The meeting, chaired by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, was adjourned yesterday and is expected to reconvene in the New Year.

Speaking earlier this week, Mr McGuinness MP insisted that the only way forward was through cross-community discussions and again called for an “unequivocal” message from unionists to end the disturbances.

“Ultimately, any workable proposals needs cross-community support,” he said. “These discussions need to address the meaning of mutual respect, parity of esteem and how to ensure that symbols and emblems are not used to promote division.

“I am confident that we can map a way forward on this basis.”

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© 2012 Irish Republican News