Ford says leaders must unite to bring flag protests and violence to an end

Alliance leader David Ford has said the leaders of the five main parties must unite to bring the continuing Union flag protests and violence to an end.

Mr Ford was speaking after three days of violence in East Belfast, which witnessed attacks on the PSNI and local communities. The Alliance leader has called for an urgent meeting of the party leaders this week to show a true commitment to building a shared future.

He said “The serious violence witnessed on the streets of East Belfast over the past three nights must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Not only was there serious destruction of property, but local residents were put in a state of fear and police officers were injured and it seems certain that there is now a significant paramilitary involvement.

“If this continues the future of local businesses will be in real danger, along with Northern Ireland’s future investment prospects. For the first time in a generation, people are now asking if they want to build their lives here or for their children to develop their careers locally.

“The immediate issue we have to deal with is how this violence can be brought to an end, with a real opportunity following to prove Northern Ireland is committed to creating a shared future.

“Strong leadership is now required, especially from those responsible for fomenting tensions through the distribution of 40,000 inflammatory and inaccurate leaflets seeking nothing but political advantage over the Alliance Party. Those leaflets kick-started the situation we find ourselves in today, giving those behind them the greatest challenge of leadership – to defuse the situation through peaceful political means.

“Leaders must be united in their condemnation of the violence and attacks on police we have seen over the last three days. The leaders of all parties must also speak with one voice when calling for the protests to cease, making clear that any solution must be a political one.

“I am calling for a full five party leaders meeting this week, for leaders of all parties to prove they are committed to seeking a way forward. This must be a priority for Unionist parties ahead of what is clearly already a redundant Unionist forum. It is essential that those charged with leadership actually start to act like statesmen and not partisan politicians.

“Northern Ireland’s leaders have a clear opportunity to move past the protests and violence and seek a real commitment to a shared future. We need to talk about shared solutions to shared problems rather than retrenchment into sectarian holding positions, demonstrating in practical terms what a shared future response looks like in practice.”

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