Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Enemies of progress fill Haass void, Belfast City Hall rally hears

Aimee Conlon takes the lead in the trade union protest outside Belfast City Hall yesterday afternoon
Aimee Conlon takes the lead in the trade union protest outside Belfast City Hall yesterday afternoon

Politicians are refusing to take risks for peace, it was claimed at a rally on Friday.

Fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement Stormont has been accused of leaving a political vacuum which is being filled by the enemies of progress.

Around 150 people turned out in the rain at lunchtime to the Demand for Action rally at City Hall organised by trades unions demanding political progress.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions assistant general secretary Peter Bunting said the purpose of the rally was to send a message to politicians that the "current state of affairs is untenable".

The event comes weeks after politicians failed to reach agreement at the Haass talks.

Mr Bunting claimed the lack of progress had created a "political vacuum", pointing to a rise in paramilitary activity, sectarian displays and trouble on the streets.

"We have an Executive in office but not functioning," he said.

"Bickering and indecision within the Executive... is costing us jobs and money as well as undermining the peace."

His sentiments were dismissed by former Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, who happened to be passing City Hall during the rally.

The DUP MP told the Belfast Telegraph: "There would be as many views in that crowd about parades, flags and the past as there are people," he said. "That's the problem we have."

However, protesters agreed with Mr Bunting's assessment and called on politicians to start working together.

Teacher Jeanette Murdoch (48) said things had got worse since 1998 and that politicians should remember those who cannot afford to buy their children school shoes or feed them properly. "They were elected to do a job which they are not doing," she said.

The director of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, Patrick Yu, said he wanted progress because political unrest leads to racist attacks.

"Ethnic minorities became the scapegoat because of a lack of political progress," he said.

Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir, who joined the crowd, said he accepted there was more Sinn Fein could do, but the same was true of all Executive parties.

STORY SO FAR

Trades unions organised the Demand for Action rally in Belfast to express frustration at the political stalemate. Multi-party talks chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass aimed at resolving problems over flags, parades and dealing with the past. The talks broke up without agreement in December. Sinn Fein and the SDLP endorsed the final document, however the DUP, UUP and Alliance did not.

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