Northern Ireland

Union flag protest: Nesbitt calls for organisers to call off weekly protest

Mike Nesbitt Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Mike Nesbitt has called for Saturday's flag protest to be called off.

The leader of the Ulster Unionist party, Mike Nesbitt, has called on the organisers of Saturday's flag protest in Belfast city centre to call it off.

On Saturday, a parade has been organised to mark the murders of two Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers who were killed by an IRA bomb in 1988.

Mr Nesbitt said nothing should deflect from marking "the memory of two brave citizens".

A campaign of loyalist street protests has been taking place since 3 December.

That evening, Belfast City Council voted to fly the union flag at the city hall on designated days only rather than every day.

James Cummings and Fred Starrett were killed on 24 February 1988 in an IRA bomb attack in Royal Avenue.

Mr Nesbitt said: "I understand over 1,000 people will take part in the parade to commemorate James and Fred who were members of the Ulster Defence Regiment deployed to protect the building site that was to become Castlecourt Shopping Centre.

"Given the cost of the flags protests, it would be regrettable if those involved did not take the opportunity to step back to allow the media to highlight how republicans once stopped at nothing to pursue their economic war against Northern Ireland, irrespective of the cost in terms of human lives or impact on the economy," he said.

"The cost of the current protests cannot be justified, but are as nothing to the equally unjustifiable cost of the Troubles."

Mr Nesbitt also made an appeal to the organisers of the weekly flag protests.

"I appeal to people like Jamie Bryson to use their influence to call off Saturday's protest and leave the streets clear for the parade in commemoration of Privates Cummings and Starrett.

"I further call, as I have since the first week of December last, for the flags protests to move off the streets. It is clear to all that the issues go far beyond the union flag, and I repeat my invitation to Mr Bryson and his colleagues to engage with the Unionist Forum, which offers an unique opportunity to air their grievances with the realistic hope of redress."

In response Jamie Bryson said: "The protest doesn't belong to me and it doesn't belong to the Ulster People's Forum and I've no right to tell anybody not to protest, we don't organise it so therefore it's not our place.

"However, I view this as a cynical attempt to use the UDR parade and the protest to undermine each other and create divisions within our community."

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