Flag row spreads to Derry

People protesting on the Peace Bridge on Sunday over the removal of the union flag from Belfast City Hall. (1112PG53)
People protesting on the Peace Bridge on Sunday over the removal of the union flag from Belfast City Hall. (1112PG53)

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said loyalist paramilitaries are involved in orchestrating disturbances surrounding the protests against the decision to remove the Union flag from Belfast City Hall.

Mr McGuinness made the remark during a debate in the Assembly yesterday condemning the violence which has erupted in a number of areas across the North following the controversial move.

Protesters on the Peace Bridge on Sunday. (1112PG56)

Protesters on the Peace Bridge on Sunday. (1112PG56)

On Sunday afternoon a crowd of up to several hundred loyalists staged a protest in Derry against the move. Around one hundred loyalists, many carrying Union flags blocked the city’s Peace Bridge during the demonstration while others gathered at Ebrington Square. The demonstrations passed off without incident.

Speaking in the Assembly, Mr McGuinness said: “The violence on the streets that we have seen over the past week has been orchestrated; both the UVF and the UDA have been involved. This raises many serious questions about the future intentions of those who once professed to support the peace process. There can be no excuses for the street violence that has left 28 police officers injured, Belfast city council staff injured, drivers of cars and buses intimidated and threatened. There can be no ifs or buts. It must be condemned, plain and simple.”

The Deputy First Minister also called for strong leadership from all political parties to condemn the violence associated with some of the protests.

“As we have done before we must unite, so as not to allow those who would wish to drag us back to the past, to take advantage of less than clear condemnation of the recent unrest.

“We must challenge ourselves to be proactive in the pursuit of the principle of mutual respect in recognising that we live in a culturally diverse society,” he said.