Flag protest in Dublin to be postponed

Loyalists look set to delay plans to stage a rally in Dublin in protest at the lowering of the union flag above Belfast City Hall.

Organisers claimed gardaí wanted more time to make security arrangements for the demonstration, which was due to take place on Saturday outside the Dáil.

Although there was no announcement of a definite decision, Willie Frazer of the Ulster People’s Forum — whose supporters have been heavily involved in the unrest and disruption in Belfast in recent weeks — said: “The gardaí want to facilitate this protest and we are prepared to work with them. But they said they need more time.”

Gardaí would only say they were aware of comments to the effect that the protest was being postponed and confirmed that senior management had been in “positive and constructive” contact with one of Mr Frazer’s representatives.

Earlier, British Prime Minister David Cameron challenged the North’s rival politicians to begin creating a shared future in a bid to ease tensions and violence.

With loyalists threatening no let up, Mr Cameron said he was willing to have talks to discuss the continuing disorder.

Many traders in Belfast, especially pub and restaurant owners, whose profits have plunged due to the trouble in the run up to Christmas and new year, are planning to withhold rates in protest.

Demonstrations brought the city centre to a virtual standstill leading to wholesale table cancellations and disastrous sales figures.

Dublin businesses also fear trouble if a union flag protest goes ahead.

First Minister Peter Robinson will preside over a meeting of unionist and loyalist representatives in Belfast today, but protest organisers have pledged to stay away.

The flag was raised in darkness at breakfast time yesterday to mark the 31st birthday of Kate Middleton, the duchess of Cambridge, and was to be lowered at 7pm, as the streets emptied in advance of more protests.

There was serious trouble in Dublin in 2006 when hardline loyalists staged a “Love Ulster” rally.

Frank Gleeson, director of Retail Ireland, wrote to Martin Callinan, the Garda Commissioner, asking for the demonstration to be moved out of the city.

Mr Frazer said he had discussed arrangements with senior Garda officers. He said he would abide by any decision. “They’ve been very professional on this whole issue. If they tell me they don’t want us, we will not force ourselves.

“It’s either a democratic right, or not. There cannot be ‘if’ ‘but’ or ‘maybe’.

“We believe we are entitled to be there, but we will abide by whatever decision. We are not going down to break the law.”

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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