Alliance Party's Naomi Long says flag row highlights 'deep divisions' in Northern Ireland

Tuesday 11 December 2012 19.48
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A forensics photographer photographs a burnt police patrol car outside Alliance Party MP Naomi Long's office in east Belfast
A forensics photographer photographs a burnt police patrol car outside Alliance Party MP Naomi Long's office in east Belfast
Assistant Chief Constable said the police officer was lucky to escape with her life
Assistant Chief Constable said the police officer was lucky to escape with her life

The deputy leader of the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, Naomi Long, has described as "reckless" a DUP motion which could lead to the union flag flying over Stormont every day of the year.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One news, Ms Long said the flag issue at Stormont had been settled with everyone's agreement.

Her party has been blamed by loyalists for supporting the SDLP and Sinn Féin in pushing through a vote in Belfast City Council to restrict the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.

Ms Long said the DUP motion would unsettle the situation further and has the potential to escalate tensions further within loyalist communities and on the streets of Belfast.

Her comments come after an attack by loyalists on a female police officer in east Belfast last night.

A large gang of masked men threw a petrol bomb into an unmarked police vehicle outside the offices of Ms Long.

Police had been stationed outside the MP's offices since she received a death threat last week.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said the officer was lucky to escape with her life.

Ms Long appealed for peace and calm and urged people not to get involved in protests.

She said some of the protests were being organised on social media and that police believe there is loyalist orchestration at some of the protests.

Earlier today she said the violence over the flying of the union flag underlines a much deeper division within society.

Speaking on Today with Pat Kenny, Ms Long said the issues were much more complex than the flying of a flag.

Meanwhile in Armagh city, Sinn Féin accused masked loyalists of attacking a pub, The Cuchulainn Bar, after staging an impromptu march with no police presence.

They claimed windows were smashed and fireworks thrown.

A statement said: "The protests, intimidation and violence needs to end and unionist politicians need to be to the fore using whatever influence they have in ensuring this happens."

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said the some of the violence was intense and there was clearly some paramilitary involvement.

It was fortunate no one was seriously injured, he claimed, adding that the situation in some areas was very tense.

He said: "There has to be a collective voice to bring this to an end."

Reverend Patton condemns violence

The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church Reverend Roy Patton has described last night's attack by loyalists on a woman police officer in east Belfast as appalling and despicable mob rule.

In a statement the Reverend Patton condemned the crime, noting that the perpetrators claim to be showing loyalty to their queen and country.

Reverend Patton warned that the violence is damaging Northern Ireland's economy and harming the good reputation the area has been establishing abroad.

He urged full support for the PSNI's efforts to halt what he called "mob rule" and to bring people before the courts. And he offered his good wishes and full support to the officer involved and all her colleagues.

The Reverend Patton said violent protest has no place whatsoever in society and must stop forthwith.

He also warned that legitimate peaceful and non-disruptive protest can end up providing cover for more sinister activity. He said that must be taken into account when people are encouraged onto the streets.