Veteran loyalist calls for flag protest convictions to be expunged

Many flag protesters have ended up with criminal records

LOYALIST leader Jackie McDonald has called for the criminal records of young people convicted in connection with the Union flag protests to be struck out.

More than 300 people- many of them young - were convicted of various offences from riotous behaviour to taking part in unlawful processions during the protests that started in December 2012.

The protests, that brought parts of Northern Ireland to a standstill, started following a decision by Belfast City Council to fly the Union flag on designated days.

The south Belfast loyalist has said through the Loyalist Communities Council, an initiative endorsed by former labour advisor Jonathan Powell to move loyalist paramilitaries away from conflict, he has raised the possibility of having convictions overturned of "at least some of the young lads".

Writing in this month's Loyalist Magazine, he said: "Many of our youngsters, who have already left school, will have been denied a proper education and the associated lack of job opportunities that leaves them vulnerable and more easily manipulated by those who use social media to be mischievous, as the numbers of those now with criminal records, prison sentences and lost jobs can testify.

"I believe there were many mitigating circumstances in many cases during the flag protests and other standoffs such as Twaddell and other situations.

"I believe many of those who have fallen foul of the law in recent months/years deserve a second chance because they were victims of circumstance", he said.

The loyalist leader said while he was aware that it was beyond "the powers of the PSNI" he hoped the Department of Justice would consider the unique circumstances of some of the convictions.

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