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Jamie Bryson says he no longer supports flag protests

Jamie Bryson pictured outside Belfast city hall at the height of the union flag protests in 2013
Staff Reporter

ONE of the leaders of the Union flag protests has said he no longer supports the weekly demonstrations held by a small number of loyalists at Belfast City Hall.

Jamie Bryson was convicted of taking part in unlawful demonstrations linked to the protests that brought parts of Belfast to a standstill following a council decision in December 2012 to fly the flag only on designated days.

However, the Co Down loyalist, who is campaign manager for former DUP member Ruth Patterson's bid to win a seat at the assembly this year, has said loyalists should abandon the protests and follow "a pathway to political change".

Protesters have said they plan to hold a 12-hour Union flag 'vigil' in the city on St Patrick’s Day, coinciding with the annual council-organised celebrations.

Mr Bryson, who regularly addressed loyalists outside city hall at the height of the demonstrations, said there is "no political advantage in holding a protest on St Patrick's Day".

Writing on political website Slugger O'Toole, he said: "Protest is a powerful tool to articulate your opposition or support for an issue and to highlight grievances or inequalities.

"But protest must have an underlying strategy, a method of converting the energy of protest into political action and then ultimately turning that activism into democratic gains.

"The absence of such a strategy during the height of the Union flag protests was a huge missed opportunity.

"I cannot see any strategic or political advantage in holding a protest on St Patrick’s Day. That is why I believe the organisers should rethink their plans.

"Further to this I think that if they believe there is a strategic or political value in a St Patrick’s Day protest, then the organisers should put forward a spokesperson to articulate what the value is."

Mr Bryson described flag protests in the past as a "release valve" for loyalist grievances.

But he said while he had no regrets about his involvement, there "has to come a time when someone has to be brave enough to ask the question, what is this achieving?"

"There has to be a pathway from protest to political action, to political change - there has to be a strategy."

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