Northern Ireland

Jamie Bryson quits protests over union flag at Belfast City Hall

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Media captionJamie Bryson became a high-profile figure after addressing protesters at demonstrations at Belfast City Hall, BBC News NI's Mark Simpson reports

Jamie Bryson, one of the loyalists who helped to organise union flag protests at Belfast City Hall, has said he no longer supports the demonstrations.

He told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme it was time to use politics rather than street protests to try to effect change.

He once said the demonstrations should continue until the flag went back up over the building all year round.

He has now changed his mind and said political activism is the way forward.

Q&A: Northern Ireland flag protests

The union flag protests began in December 2012 after Belfast City Council voted to fly the union flag at City Hall on designated days, rather than its former policy of displaying it on every day of the year.

Many unionists objected to the change and a series of street protests continued for more than a year.

Strategy

Some of the demonstrations ended in violence, multiple arrests and injuries to police officers.

Mr Bryson told Talkback said he was "very, very proud" of the protests and described them as a "release valve" for loyalist grievances.

Image copyright DUP/UUP
Image caption Weeks before the 2012 flag vote, the DUP and UUP distributed thousands of leaflets across Belfast that critics claimed had "inflamed" the flag protesters

But he said he now believed "there has to be a pathway from protest to political action, to political change - there has to be a strategy".

A number of callers to the programme accused Mr Bryson of "selling out" and betraying the protesters, but he said he was entitled to reconsider his position.

Battlefields

He also accused the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) of exploiting the protests for electoral gain.

He claimed the two parties had tried to "wind people up" by jointly distributing 40,000 leaflets ahead of the council's flag vote in December 2012.

Mr Bryson has also written a blog about his altered views on the Slugger O'Toole website, in which he said the absence of a political strategy during the height of the protests was a "huge missed opportunity".

He added: "If no one ever stood up and said: 'We need to change our tactics', then people would still be using swords and charging across battlefields on horseback during the Cold War."

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