Date set for first Unionist Forum meeting

Mike Nesbitt and Peter Robinson The first meeting of the forum set up by Mike Nesbitt of the UUP and DUP leader Peter Robinson will take place on Thursday

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The Unionist Forum set up by NI's two main unionist leaders is to meet for the first time on Thursday.

DUP leader Peter Robinson and Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt set up the forum in a bid to address the ongoing flag protests.

A campaign of street protests has taken place since Belfast City Council voted to fly the union flag over the city hall only on designated days.

The leaders hope to channel the protests through political means.

Several protests in Belfast have been followed by street violence, most notably in the east of the city.

Joint statement

The Alliance party, the SDLP and Sinn Fein have warned that unionists cannot solve the flag issue on their own.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt confirmed that the first meeting of the forum would be held at 09:30 GMT on Thursday in Parliament Buildings at Stormont.

"As indicated when we initially announced the creation of the forum, its purpose will be to seek to engage with the entire unionist community and to address issues of concern," the unionist leaders said.

"It will seek to channel unionist efforts through political means.

"While participants attending the initial meeting will be limited, working groups may be established to provide a more extensive reach across the wider unionist community.

"The forum will be a body through which unionists can meet to consider matters of interest and concern to the unionist community."

The statement added that all participants should "be committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, non-sectarianism, commitment to a shared future and commitment to the successful operation of devolution in Northern Ireland."

The leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, Billy Hutchinson, has said his party will attend the initial meeting of the Unionist Forum.

He said he will then take back whatever is discussed, and whether the party is being asked to sign up to any conditions or contract, before the PUP decides whether they will continue to participate.

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