Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Unionist Forum just isn't working, warns Orange Order leader

Orange Order Grand Chaplain Mervyn Gibson has said the Unionist Forum is not functioning properly

A senior Orange Order leader has warned that the Unionist Forum is not working – just two months after it was launched.

Grand Chaplain the Rev Mervyn Gibson said the body set up by Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt to tackle issues underpinning unionist discontent is not being properly resourced or administered.

And he insisted the Order will not be prepared to act as a "sticking plaster" for the initiative which resulted from the violence and protests over the Union flag row.

"At the moment we are going on a wing and a prayer," the Belfast senior Orange figure told a 'roadshow' organised under the auspices of the forum.

The meeting in Lisburn was also told some of the sub-groups established, believed to include the group dealing with flags and parades, have not yet met.

Doubts over the effectiveness of the exercise were also voiced by Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson and hardline unionist Jim Allister.

The forum was formed on January 10 and established a 'task force' to consult the public on issues including flags and symbols, parading, unionist identity and educational under-achievement in unionist areas.

But the Rev Gibson told the audience of more than 300: "I don't believe it is working at this point in time because I don't believe the resources have been put into it.

"At the moment we are going on a wing and a prayer. I think it needs to be properly resourced and properly administered."

The Belfast Orange leader said: "We need to put a bit of fire under the Unionist Forum."

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Mr Allister said he believed the sub-groups set up to examine the key issues also including voter turnout have not yet met.

Mr Allister and the Rev Gibson were among those taking part in a panel discussion which also included DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, Mr Nesbitt, Progressive Unionist leader Billy Hutchinson and Henry Reilly of Ukip.

story so far

The Unionist Forum was set up in January to examine the flags issue, signs of increasing alienation within the Protestant community, poor voter turnout among unionists and deprivation and educational underachievement in Protestant areas. Its formation came more than a month after Belfast City Council's decision to reduce the year-round Union flag displays to designated days.

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