Unionist Forum In First Meeting

The new unionist forum met today for the first time, in an effort to encourage dialogue in the community.

The forum was organised by UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and DUP leader Peter Robinson, who called it "the most representative group in the unionist community to meet in half a century."

The meeting follows weeks of flag protests, some dangerously violent, since the decision on 3 December to limit the number of days the union flag can be flown on top of Belfast City Hall.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister said there had been "no angry words" during the meeting and it had been "useful and positive".

Mr Robinson was speaking during a press conference at Stormont on Thursday afternoon.

"We want to move beyond protests to political action to get outcomes that are beneficial, not just to the unionist community but the whole community in Northern Ireland," he said.

He described the meeting and the political process as "the mechanism for change".

"We will talk to anyone who wants to talk to us about how we can move forward in an exclusively peaceful and democratic manner.

"We want to take people beyond the protest, we want to engage with people. The protesters have highlighted issues, the forum is taking those issues forward."

Wednesday evening saw the first night of peaceful protest following six nights of violence during which police were bombarded with golf balls, bottles, bricks and other missiles.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers today told the Commons "bold action" was required on the part of Northern Ireland’s political leaders.

"The stability delivered by the Belfast Agreement should never be taken for granted,” she said.

"For some, sectarian divisions remain deeply entrenched and it's time for bold moves by Northern Ireland's political leadership to address them.

"They have fixed tougher problems than the ones we face today. I believe they can rise to the challenge as they have to so many others in the last few decades."


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