Northern Ireland

Unionist Forum holds east Belfast meeting

DUP leader Peter Robinson and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt
Image caption The forum was established by the DUP and Ulster Unionists

Members of the Unionist Forum have held discussions with residents and community workers in east Belfast.

Flag protests, educational under-achievement, poverty and deprivation were all discussed during the meeting.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said the talks were excellent and marked the start of a proper engagement with protesters.

Mr Nesbitt said people spoke with passion, but were respectful at all times.

The forum was established by the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party to address the ongoing union flag protest and other concerns within the unionist community.

It has set up a taskforce to engage with the wider community, and eight working groups on subjects across the unionist spectrum.

There were six consecutive nights of violence in east Belfast from last Thursday 3 January until last Tuesday over Belfast City Council's decision to restrict the flying of the union flag to designated days only.

Friday's meeting was held at Westbourne Presbyterian Church on the Lower Newtownards Road.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson of the DUP said the meeting, which lasted more than two hours, went very well.

He said "it was a two-way process".

Mr Wilson said he told the meeting that it was legitimate to protest but he was aware of the economic impact of the past few weeks.

He said people had a responsibility to show that Northern Ireland was open for business and a stable place.

Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson said people showed their frustration during the meeting and said it was an opportunity for politicians to discover how people felt.

He confirmed that his party had written to Belfast City Council claiming that limiting the flying of the union flag was in breach of equality policies.

He also said a legal challenge was being considered.

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