Northern Ireland

UVF 'drugs dealers' behind Belfast flag riots, says McGuinness

Police came under attack on Albertbridge Road in east Belfast on Saturday afternoon
Image caption Police came under attack on Albertbridge Road in east Belfast on Saturday afternoon

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister has alleged that two senior UVF figures involved in orchestrating disorder are well-known drug pushers.

Martin McGuinness told the Stormont Assembly the disorder must end and everyone needed to stand together.

He said this was a challenge to the power-sharing institutions by people who represented no one but themselves.

He added that some of those involved were associated with the BNP and were to "some degree sectarian bigots".

He said he did not believe those involved in these disturbances represented the unionist people.

"I believe there is a solution and I think the solution can be found in the example all the political parties in this house in the aftermath of the murder of two soldiers at Massareene, the murder of Stephen Carroll and the murder of Ronan Kerr," he added.

"What works for us is the sight of all the political parties in this house standing together against those who believe in violence as a way forward."

First minister Peter Robinson has again appealed for violence over street protests to end.

He said that the decision to limit the number of days it could be flown had "unsettled the status quo" but that could not justify the violence of recent weeks.


Mr Robinson said that damage was being caused to Northern Ireland's reputation abroad and was damaging businesses in the city.

"You do not respect a union flag if you use it as a weapon to attack someone," he said.

He added that those involved in violence were the enemies of democracy.

The Alliance leader David Ford linked the current loyalist violence to events of last summer when there was a challenge to the Parades Commission and leaflets "whipped up tensions over flags".

He said there had been a "re-sectarianising" of Northern Ireland.

Mr Ford said people needed to "wind down" the language they were using.

The tourism Minister Arlene Foster said she was "incredibly frustrated" by the scenes of violence being shown around the world.

She called for an end to the protest and said the damage must be countered by continuing to build on events such as the UK City of Culture, the World Fire Games and the G8 summit.

But she added that the tourism industry is at a critical stage. She said safety and security, peace and stability are critical features for growth.

She strongly condemned the violence, and said she was saddened by the damage done.

She was responding to a question from Enterprise Committee chairman, Patsy McGlone on the impact of the current loyalist protest.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said there was a political way forward and the unionist forum would discuss underlying issues such as "cultural identity, the economy and the perceived failure of politics".

Alasdair McDonnell, the leader of the SDLP, said a "one-sided forum" would not reduce tensions.

He said that all the political parties needed to come together to discuss cross-community relations.

Twenty-nine police officers were injured at the weekend in rioting at east Belfast's Short Strand interface.

Loyalist street demonstrations have been taking place for almost six weeks, since Belfast City Council voted to change its longstanding union flag policy on 3 December.

The council, which now has more nationalist members than unionists and with the Alliance party holding the balance of power, voted to fly the flag at Belfast City Hall on a number of designated days, rather than every day of the year.

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