FIRST Minister Peter Robinson said attacks on police which followed Union flag violence left unionists “disgusted”.
He told the DUP’s party conference at the La Mon House Hotel on Saturday said “one of the greatest tragedies” of the last year was the violence surrounding the union flag protests.
And the DUP leader said most unionists remained “appalled” by Belfast City Council’s decis controversial vote to only fly the union flag on designated days.
“One of the greatest tragedies over the last year is how legitimate protests descended into violence and economic destruction,” Mr Robinson said.
“It was not only morally wrong, it was self-evidently counter-productive.
“Support drained away from a genuinely good cause when the trouble started.
“Those who orchestrated the violence sabotaged a sound and just cause.”
The DUP leader also said he was unsure if agreement on a way forward on the past could be achieved but said people “must not be re-traumatised in the future”.
He said the last year had shown that Northern Ireland continued to “live with the legacy of the past”.
Mr Robinson added that decades-old events continued to “haunt” victims “on a daily basis” and they deserved justice.
“We must move forward on the clearest possible terms. There can be no distinction between terrorism today and terrorism in the past,” he said.
“There can be no distinction between violence by loyalists and violence by dissident republicans.
“I know from speaking to victims first-hand that events, now decades old, still haunt them on a daily basis.
“For them it’s not about the past – it’s their present and it’s their future. One cannot fail to be moved by the suffering they have endured.”