Northern Ireland

Belfast flags issue: Lord Trimble accuses DUP

David Trimble
Image caption Lord Trimble said the flag issue was being used by the DUP

Former first minister David Trimble has accused the DUP of "cynically" stirring things over the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.

The Conservative peer told the BBC the row was more to do with the DUP's attempts to win back the East Belfast parliamentary seat from Alliance.

"I am surprised there is a problem, because the issue could have been foreseen, a compromise was available.

"It seems rather strange the compromise has not been accepted," he said.

"It's really strange that some parties who sit at Stormont and accept for government buildings the designated flag days are out encouraging protests against designated days in other public buildings.

"It's a pity some parties are now not accepting that compromise.

He said it made him suspect parties had "other motives".

"I cannot avoid looking at the fact that the Alliance Party who provided the majority for this compromise at city hall is the party that defeated the DUP in east Belfast in the parliamentary election

"I wonder if this is something to do with trying to regain support that went to the Alliance Party at that stage.

"In which case I think it's a really quite cynical thing for them to be doing."

However, the DUP's Sammy Wilson said Lord Trimble's views on the issue differed from most unionists.

"It is notable that all unionist parties have stood united on this issue in support of the union flag," he said.

"It is not surprising however that David Trimble would place himself well outside mainstream unionist thinking.

"The DUP will continue to co-operate with the wider unionist family to offer leadership and provide a way forward."

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party have issued a joint statement on the flags issue.

Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt said: "It remains our view that the cause is best served by moving beyond protest and to a political solution.

"We are especially conscious of any impact on the business community in the vital weeks leading up to Christmas and wish to ensure that their business is not affected by either protests or the fear of disruption.

"On Monday we will complete our brief consultation with some of the key interested parties in the unionist community.

"Following that, we will agree a way forward which will facilitate the announcement of a new initiative, involving people from across the unionist community, that will chart a positive way ahead to address many of the issues of concern that have been raised in recent days."

Earlier the DUP denied that they were sending out mixed messages regarding the party's stance on the protests.

The minister Arlene Foster wants the flag protests to end. The party leader Peter Robinson wants them suspended. But on Thursday night an MLA took part in a demonstration.

The DUP investment minister Arlene Foster has called for people involved in the flag protests in Northern Ireland to take them off the streets.

Ms Foster said she was very concerned about the impact on local traders.

Violence has followed some protests over last week's decision to limit the number of days the union flag is flown at Belfast City Hall.

There were more protests on Thursday, including one attended by DUP assembly member William Humphrey.

Mr Humphrey was at a peaceful loyalist protest blocking the Crumlin Road at Cambrai Street in north Belfast.

He said that he was there to show solidarity and that he had "no doubt he has the support" of Peter Robinson for his presence. Last week Mr Robinson called for the protests to be suspended.

"This protest is not damaging the economy, this is showing the anger and frustration and deep hurt that there is in this city of people who are decent loyal citizens of this kingdom who want their flag restored to the city hall," Mr Humphrey said.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme, Ms Foster appealed directly to protesters saying: "Take it off the streets and let's make it into a process where we can all move forward together in a unified way.

Image caption William Humphrey said he wanted to show solidarity with peaceful protesters

"This party has always been talking about coming together and unifying and moving the union forward because we believe in the union, it's good for everybody in Northern Ireland.

"So let's make that a reality."

Ms Foster said the timing of that debate had been "wrong headed".

There were some further protests on Friday evening.

The Christmas market in Belfast which was closed several times because of flag protests is to be opened for an extra three days next week. The city council said it was an attempt to get people back into the city centre.

Most stalls at the market will now trade until Sunday, 23 December.

In the past week, violence has flared in parts of Northern Ireland in the wake of the street protests.

At least 29 police officers have been injured and 38 people arrested.

Alliance Party members and premises have been targeted by loyalists since last Monday's vote on the city hall flag.

Two senior DUP members - Jeffrey Donaldson and Edwin Poots - have also been warned of death threats, which they believe are from dissident republicans and linked to their stance on the flags issue.

Alliance, Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors voted to limit the flying of the flag while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Ulster Unionists (UUP) opposed the move.

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