Northern Ireland

Belfast council meets for first time since flag vote

PSNI officers at City Hall
Image caption The PSNI closed roads around city hall while loyalists protested outside

A large security operation was put in place around Belfast City Hall as councillors met for the first time on Monday since voting to limit the days the union flag flies on the building.

The PSNI closed roads around city hall while loyalists protested outside.

Nationalists and republicans had wanted the flag completely removed but agreed to an Alliance party deal to limit the number of days in a vote on 3 December.

Unionists had wanted the flag to continue flying everyday.

A campaign of street protests has taken place since the vote - some have resulted in violence. Death threats have also been made against politicians in various parties.

Earlier on Monday, Northern Ireland's chief constable, Matt Baggott said senior members of the UVF in east Belfast - as individuals - had been "increasingly orchestrating" some of the violence.

BBC Northern Ireland's political editor Mark Devenport said that although the flag issue was not on the official agenda for discussion at the meeting, given the events since last month's controversial decision, politicians on all sides felt the need to make their views known.

The DUP Mayor Gavin Robinson expressed sympathy for all those under threat, arguing the city would be stronger if everyone stood together.

'Very bad week'

Sinn Fein's council leader Jim McVeigh also condemned the threats and said republicans were prepared to respect the city's British culture and traditions.

Mr McVeigh accused unionists of failing to provide leadership over the flag dispute and said the protests were pointless as they would not have any impact on council decisions.

The DUP's Robin Newton said he found it difficult to take a lecture from Sinn Fein when republicans had chosen to bulldoze through the change even though they were fully aware of the hurt the move would cause.

Image caption Loyalists mounted a protest outside the city hall on Monday over the council's decision

He said east Belfast had had "a very bad week" and called on the flag protests to stop, saying there was "another political way forward".

Alliance councillor Maire Hendron said Northern Ireland's reputation had been dragged through the gutter by recent events.

Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) councillor John Kyle, whose party has links with the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), said the sense of alienation felt in loyalist areas was a challenge to all unionist parties.

The DUP's Chris Stalford said the advice given by the Equality Commission that flying the flag on designated days would help community relations "wasn't worth tuppence".

Sinn Fein's Tom Hartley reminded unionists that his party had backed funding for Jubilee street parties and pointed out that Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness shook the Queen's hand.