SOS SAYS INVOLVING BRITISH AND IRISH LEADERS IN FLAG DISPUTE WOULD BE A STEP BACK

Theresa Villiers in east Belfast

Theresa Villiers in east Belfast

THE Secretary of State has held high level talks in Belfast on Thursday over the ongoing flag dispute.

And Theresa Villiers said that to involve Prime Minister David Cameron and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny would be a “retrograde step”.

She was speaking outside Stormont Castle on Thursday lunchtime with Irish deputy prime minisiter Eamon Gilmore.

They held talks with the First and deputy first ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness

The Secretary of State said the recent street violence was “intolerable” but she added that Northern Irealdn was still “a great place”.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the recent images had the “potential to undo good work of recent years.”

Ms Villiers said that she was keeping Prime Minister David Cameron briefed daily on the current Union flag dispute.

But she added: “It would be a retrograde step to have to directly involve Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda in the current difficulties.”

The Secretary of State pressed importance of dialogue on the issue of flags and says Northern Ireland’s political leaders can solve the problem.

She also praised the PSNI in trying to keep the peace on Northern Ireland’s street saying they had done a “fantastic job”.

The meeting comes as thousands of peace leaflets are to be distrubted in east Belfast this week calling for peace and an end to the violence.

During a visit to east Belfast on Wednesday, Ms Villiers repeated her message that the protests were actively counterproductive and had to stop.

The Northern Ireland Office said the meeting was arranged some time ago.

An NIO spokesperson added that, given the events of recent weeks, it was inevitable that the discussions would be dominated by the flags crisis.

The Secretary of State, who met residents during her visit on Wednesday, described the recent violence in the city as “intolerable”.

She said it was vital that the loyalist protestors came off the streets so that a grown-up discussion could be held about how to resolve issues of identity, symbols and flags.

Speaking in Dublin, Irish deputy prime minister Eamon Gilmore argued it was important that politics was seen to be working.

Mr Gilmore repeated Dublin’s backing for more European peace funding to address the multiple problems experienced in some flashpoint areas.

Meanwhile, Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce is seeking urgent talks with senior PSNI officers and government ministers over the impact of the flag protests.

The move follows a meeting of almost 200 businessmen and women in the Europa Hotel on Wednesday evening.

Anger and frustration was directed towards political leaders and the police over the impact of the protests.

One trader said if protests continued he would have to lay off staff “not in weeks or months, but in days”.

Police tactics around the protests were called into question and there were accusations of a lack of political leadership both at Stormont and the city hall.

The majority of the street demonstrations have passed without incident, but some have resulted in serious rioting.

Since the vote was passed on 3 December, 102 police officers have been injured and there have been 116 arrests.

 

 

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