DUP MP Gregory Campbell has said that the key to resolving the the ongoing flags protest lies in the response of the nationalist/republican community.
His comments came ahead of the first meeting of the new Unionist Forum today (Thursday).
Perhaps the most high profile unionist politician to have taken part in the loyalist protests to date, the DUP man also contended that he would have no difficulty in doing so again as long as the demonstrations in Londonderry remain peaceful.
Mr Campbell and a delegation of DUP representatives from the city were amongst around 70 protesters who picketed for around an hour last Friday at Glendermott Road. The demonstration passed off without incident.
Mr Campbell said that the ongoing hiatus over the decision to fly the Union flag from Belfast City Hall on designated days only as opposed to all year round was a denigration of Unionist identity, but was also emblematic of deeper frustrations within the Protestant Loyalist Unionist (PUL) community.
“It was I suppose the pivotal decision that followed a series of things that affected the unionist community. Amongst these in the last ten years was the decision to pursue a policy of 50/50 recruitment within the PSNI, which I have referred to on many previous occasions and which is a source of great resentment,” he said.
Mr Campbell also referred to parading issues last summer when he said the Parades Commission had imposed rulings upon loyal order parades passing a Catholic church in North Belfast, but that a republican parade in Dungiven at which bands played outside a Protestant church had no restrictions at all placed upon it.
“Other issues such as opportunities in employment and in education which see the Protestant community placed at a disadvantage have also caused resentment and this all culminated after the decision concerning Belfast City Hall,” said Mr Campbell.
“This has been a one way process, not for Protestants, but where Sinn Fein and the republican movement have been given everything. Nationalists just don’t seem to see this. Taking down the flag at Belfast City Hall is one thing, but look at the council offices on Strand Road where there is a permanent sign using an Irish language motif. You also have the example of a play park in Newry being named after Raymond McCreesh, an IRA hunger striker. Why don’t nationalists get this?”, he said.
The DUP man also said that in his view violence during the protests has to stop, as do the protests themselves. However, he also said that whilst parades remain peaceful unionist representatives had an obligation to support and attend them. Asked if he would attend further protests in Londonderry he said: “It’s a matter of judging the circumstances on the day, but if it is peaceful I would have no difficulty in going to something like that.”
In the search for a solution to the current situation Mr Campbell said that emphasis needs to be placed on constituting a Unionist forum as soon as possible to thrash out grievances. Whilst he said nationalist representatives do not necessarily have to take part in such discussions, it was their response to unionist dissatisfaction that may hold the key to a resolution.
“There needs to be an acknowledgement that these grievances are legitimate issues. Once the unionist forum takes place and the key issues are identified nationalists need to show reasonable responses. The unionist community can provide a diagnosis of what is wrong but the cure lies in the nationalist community. If they don’t the protesters will simply say, ‘well there you are, we were right’.”