LEADING flag protesterWillie Frazer last night insisted that he was still a spokesman for the Ulster People’s Forum after a ” heated ” showdown with chairman Jamie Bryson. On Wednesday Mr Bryson issued a statement on behalf of the group saying it ” no longer validates Willie Frazer as a spokesperson “.
However, the controversial victims campaigner said he did still speak for the forum after meeting Mr Bryson and other members at a Belfast hotel yesterday. The forum was set up by angry loyalist in the weeks after December 3 when Belfast City Council voted to restrict the flying of the Union Flag at the city hall to 18 designated days each year. Since then the forum has been central in organising flag protests across the north. Sources said yesterday’s meeting was ” heated ” and that at times voices were raised as the two men clashed over the form’s future. However, they appeared together afterwards to say they had put their disagreement behind them and were now ” fully united “.
The protest leaders fell out last month after Mr Bryson (22) announced that the forum was abandoning the tactic of blocking public roads in favour of white-line pickets. Mr Frazer branded the policy shift a ” mistake ” and questioned whether the forum had approved the move. The statement issued by the forum on Wednesday followed a meeting of the group that evening. ” Unfortunately recent statements made by Willie Frazer in the media are contrary to some of the views, plans and agreed polices of the Ulster People’s Forum,” it said. ” We have invited Willie Frazer to various meetings to discuss and resolve these issues. Unfortunately he has chosen not to accept these invitations. ” The Ulster People’s Forum no longer validates Willie Frazer as a spokesperson and the committee stands over the statement made by Ulster People’s Forum on January 30. ” The committee wish to make clear that Jamie Bryson is the only officially elected spokesperson of the Ulster People’s Forum and has their full support.” However, after yesterday’s meeting Mr Frazer said : ” The aims and objectives of the organisation have not changed and the whole thing is moving in the same direction as it started out in. ” It was admitted that communications were a problem and in future nothing will be done until it is run past the full committee and myself. ” The whole thing about white-line pickets and roadblocks is that it’s down to the people in their own areas what they do.” Mr Frazer (52), formerly head of south Armagh victims group Fair, said the flag issue must be resolved. ” It’s going on now for 10 weeks and we need to get this sorted out before the marching season because we don’t know where it will end up,” he said.
Gordon Dunne Supports “Giving Voice” Event (Photo credit: DUP Photos)
A DUP assembly member has been lambasted over claims that the media ” exploited ” and ” overplayed ” the impact of the loyalist flags protests. North Down MLA Gordon Dunne said that coverage of two months of protests and violence – which has cost the economy an estimated £20 million and left about 100 police officers injured – had been badly handled by the press.
He was speaking after the Stormont enterprise committee heard about the devastating impact on trade in Belfast city centre. ” There is no doubt the media have overplayed the whole thing in relation to protests and that in itself has been detrimental in terms of bringing people into Belfast,” he told the committee. He added : ” The images of Northern Ireland in the last two months have been very negative. ” They’ve been wrong and the media certainly exploited it and they have used it and abused it.” Mr Dunne sits on the same council as Michael and Christine Bower, the two Alliance councillors whose Bangor home was targeted on December 6 by loyalists after Belfast City Council voted to restrict flying the Union Flag.
His comments were criticised last night by Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle who described them as ” ill-judged and wide of the mark “. ” It is solely the responsibility of the protesters and those behind the violence,” he said.
Óglaigh Marian and Dolores Price, Republican prisoners in Armagh jail in the 1970s.
— [The photograph was taken with a camera smuggled into the prison and is part of a series of images given to Belfast Exposed]
Bobby Sands was born in Belfast and lived with his family in the Rathcoole estate in north Belfast until 1972 when they were forced from their home and then moved to the Twinbrook estate in west Belfast. Soon after these events he joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In 1973 Sands was arrested on arms charges and went onto serve five years in the Maze Prison. Following his release in 1976 he soon became involved once again in paramilitary activity and in 1977 Sands was re-arrested having been found in possession of weapons. After his trial he received a 14 year sentence and returned the Maze Prison. By this time however the prison regime in Ireland’s North had undergone a radical change with the British government having abolished in 1976 special category status for anyone convicted of terrorist activities after that year. As a consequence in the autumn 1976 republican prisoners had begun to take action in protest at the move and as a result on his arrival in the Maze in 1977 Sands joined in this action.
However these initial efforts made little headway and as a result the decision was taken to escalate the action in October 1980 when a number of prisoners began a hunger strike. During this time Sands had assumed the position of leader of IRA prisoners in the jail and when the first hunger strike ended in December 1980 without a clear settlement, he chose to lead another hunger strike which commenced on 1 March 1981. On 5 May 1981, the 66th day of his fast, he became the first of ten hunger strikers who were to die without immediately securing their demands from the British government. Instead Sands was to leave a more important legacy in that in March 1981 he had been nominated to stand as an “Anti-H-Block” candidate in the Westminster by-election for the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. His subsequent victory in April 1981 not only gave impetus to the prison protests but provided a boost to certain elements within the Republican movement. In particular it strengthed the hands of those who were anxious for it to engage in a sustained effort to develop an electoral base in order to sustain their strategic goal of securing Irish unification.