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'We must stand shoulder to shoulder'

Published 17/01/2013

John Manley Political Reporter




DEPUTY First Minister Martin McGuinness yesterday called on the north's political leaders to stand "shoulder to shoulder" in opposing loyalist violence.

In remarks seen as a direct ad-dress to First Minister Peter Robinson and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, he said there was a need for greater public solidarity between Stormont's parties in the face of continued unrest.

His comments were echoed by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

The Louth TD told the Dail that unlawful protests and attacks on homes in the Short Strand area of east Belfast underpinned the "need for constant and consistent support for the peace and political processes".

The Sinn Fein leaders' call came ahead of a visit by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore to the north today.

He and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers are expected to meet Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson at Stormont.

The Labour leader has also been urged to visit the Short Strand, which has been the focus of loyalist violence in recent days.

During a visit to the nationalist enclave yesterday Mr McGuinness said Stormont's leaders needed to do more to end the violence which has followed Belfast City Council's vote to fly the Union flag from the city hall on designated days only.

Police and the courts need-ed to deal with "lawbreakers", he said.

"This is an occasion where we do need to be seen to be standing together - not just Peter Robinson and myself - but all the political leaders in the assembly need to be speaking with one voice and making it absolutely clear that we are not going to bow the knee, we are not going to bow the knee to anti-democratic forces, whether they be so-called loyalists or socalled republicans," he said.

Mr McGuinness said a statement he issued with Mr Robinson last month was not as strong as he would have liked.

Mr Adams said that since the beginning of the flag protests and the upsurge in violence the deputy first minister had been endeavouring to bring about all-party opposition.

He said: "When the two British soldiers were killed in 2009 and the two PSNI officers were killed, Martin McGuinness stood shoulder to shoulder with Peter Robinson and led a robust all-party and cross-community response.

"There was no equivocation - the same all-party approach is required today. We need all-party dialogue and cross-party response to bring the violence to an end."

Last night the DUP's Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: "Whilst Martin McGuinness seeks to lecture unionists on the condemnation of rioting he should recognise that Sinn Fein does not have clean hands given that it was Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party who foolishly stirred up tensions by pushing through this vote on the Union flag in city hall."

"It was Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance who abandoned consensus politics in favour of majority rule in city hall.

"Those parties must accept that their approach has served to stir up division and set back relationships.

"It was also interesting that Mr McGuinness had little to say about his party colleague Alex Maskey who said if he lived in Short Strand he would be out throwing stones too.

"That's not leadership. The answer to violence is not more violence. The DUP has consistently called for an end to the violence against the police.

"Those who perpetrate violence bring shame on our Union flag."