‘Failure of leadership’
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has criticised the leadership of unionist parties over their handling of the current wave of loyalist protest about Union flags.
Mr McGuinness claimed there has been a “failure of leadership” within unionism and said that the current protests will not undermine political progress.
He made the comments during a keynote speech at a selection event in Gulladuff on Wednesday evening where Francie Molloy was chosen to contest the forthcoming Mid Ulster by-election. Mr McGuinness had previously announced his intention to step down as an MP to focus on his duties at Stormont in line with his party’s policy on dual mandates.
The Deputy First Minister told the meeting that the events of recent days highlights the need for a change of attitude within the leadership of political unionism.
“James Craig once described the Six Counties as a Protestant state and Stormont as a Protestant parliament. A few days ago a very senior unionist politician described the place where we live as, and I quote, ‘a unionist country.’ The days of Sir James Craig or Lord Craigavon are long gone. This is not a unionist country,” he said.
“I am very disappointed that, in response to the events of the past week, we have yet to see from within some sections of unionism the honest leadership we require. I am disappointed to say that we have seen a failure of leadership from some quarters. Only they can explain why,” he added.
Mr McGuinness also said the decision taken by Belfast City Council not to fly the Union flag every day is in line with a previously accepted policy.
“This decision was in line with the flags legislation brought forward by Peter Mandelson and which David Trimble from the Ulster Unionists commended many years ago.
“It was in line with the position of the PUP up until a few short weeks ago. It was in line with the position adopted by Lisburn Council on designated days which unionists supported.
“And yet, suddenly, for no apparent reason, unionists have set themselves against the designated days
“The decision of Belfast City Council was the right decision.
“And although it was not the preferred option for Sinn Féin, my party accept and respect that decision.
“Compromise favours no side but benefits us all,” he said.
Mr McGuinness cited examples of how symbols of unionism are accepted by nationalists and republican in Derry.
“I have crossed the Craigavon Bridge, which was named after James Craig, nearly every day of my life.
“It lies in the heart of Derry City, the population of which is mainly nationalist and republican. Nationalists have never sought to have the Craigavon Bridge renamed. Nor do they seek the flying of the Irish national flag over the Guildhall.
“The identity and symbols of those who see themselves as British must be protected. I accept that, I support that and I will commit to that. But so too must the identity and symbols of those who see themselves as Irish. I commit to that also,” he said
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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