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Protests 'release valve' for loyalist anger says Frazer

Published 09/01/2013

Bimpe Archer

PROTESTS over the Union flag are acting as a "release valve" for loyalist anger, according to victims' campaigner Willie Frazer.

The spokesman for newly-constituted protest alliance the Ulster People's Forum said "politicians had their chance" to alleviate the frustrations of working class unionists.

"The last thing we want is violence," he said, adding that the trouble could be "a lot worse".

"This is a pressure cooker and we are the release valve," he said.

"The parties have had their hands on the switches to turn it up and down and basically they have forgotten there was anything on the stove."

He was speaking during the first organised news conference by the forum's "interim" leadership at the East Belfast Constitutional Club on Newtownards Road.

They have called for meetings in "local halls" across the north to nominate people to sit on the grassroots forum.

In time, they claim, this will "provide a mechanism for a positive cohesive strategy to be drawn up by a consensus of those involved".

Jamie Bryson, a former community worker from Donaghadee, Co Down, criticised the "zero-tolerance and heavy-handed tactics currently being used against the British citizens of east Belfast".

There were violent scenes in the east of the city on Monday when loyalists clashed with police following an organised demonstration outside Belfast council offices.

Yesterday, the forum laid the blame squarely on police officers who they accused of "provoking violence" to "demonise the peaceful protests".

Calling on "all young people to keep cool heads and not react to any acts of provocation", Mr Bryson said there are "serious concerns around the conduct and brutality of the officers on the ground".

However, those gathered at the press conference to spearhead the response to the weeks of protest and violence were unable to give an indication of what it would take to end the demonstrations.

Mr Frazer said it has now gone "be-yond the Union flag" being removed from Belfast City Hall which sparked an angry reaction in early December.

"This flag was taken down and put in a broom cupboard [and people thought] that Protestants would come out and protest for a few days and go home and forget about it," he said.

"The flag was the straw that broke the camel's back."

Mr Frazer said the "republican movement" is "out to destroy everything that is British". He said loyalists would not be content to see prosecutions over Bloody Sunday unless there were similar moves against the perpetrators of the killings of Protestants in the Shankill bombing, La Mon and Kingsmill.

Mr Frazer also confirmed he is to stand as a candidate in the forthcoming Mid Ulster Westminster by-election. ■ 'GRASSROOTS': Bill Hill from Tigers Bay, Suzie Gill from Woodvale, Jamie Bryson, interim chairman of the Ulster People's Forum, Willie Frazer, spokesman for the Ulster People's Forum, and Ian Ogle from east Belfast