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Expelled DUP councillor Ruth Patterson calls for 're-think' of loyalist flag protest on St Patrick's Day

By Claire Williamson

Hardline Unionist Ruth Patterson has called for those planning a St Patrick's Day flag protest to "re-think" their plans.

The former DUP councillor has been a strong supporter of the flag protests since the council voted for its removal from Belfast City Hall in 2012.

In November she was expelled from the party over an interview in this newspaper in which she lambasted the party leadership for parachuting junior minister Emma Pengelly into the Assembly seat vacated by Jimmy Spratt.

She will now stand against her as an Independent in the South Belfast constituency.

Her election campaign will be managed by Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson.

In a blog post ahead of the planned flag protest due to take place on St Patrick's Day she said there was no "strategic or political purpose" in the protest.

But insists she supports the continuation of the weekly Saturday protests.

A group calling itself Loyal People's Protest plans to stage a Union flag vigil outside Belfast City Hall for 12 hours.

Ms Patterson wrote: "From day one I have been an avid supporter of the Union flag protests and have strongly defended the right to peaceful and lawful protest.

"I do believe that protest is a form of drawing attention to the issue about which you protest, but ultimately grievances can only be properly addressed and changes made via the democratic political process.

"With that in mind I would encourage the organisers of the St Patrick’s day protest to rethink their plans and divert their energy into seeking to make a change via the democratic process."

Addressing the weekly Union flag protest, she said while she supports them to continue, she wants those taking part to become more involved in the political process.

She said: "The Union flag protest has been a weekly Saturday event since December 2012. I think the time has come for those with such a clear passion for their cause to divert that energy into constructive and positive political activism.

"I do not think there is a strategic or political purpose in organising a protest on St Patrick’s day. Given Unionism regularly articulates opposition to pop-up Nationalist protests, which are designed to make expressions of Unionist culture contentious, I think it would do a great disservice to Unionism in general if our community were to be portrayed as purposefully seeking to be offended.

"I pay tribute to the commitment and dedication of those who have sacrificed much of their time in order to protest regularly to raise the inequalities currently being inflicted upon the Unionist community.

"And it is because of this that I believe that I - and indeed all the Unionist parties - owe it to these people to provide a political vision and avenue to air these grievances.

"I suspect big house Unionism would be more than happy to allow these people to protest forever and a day and simply dismiss or ignore them.

"I believe we are duty bound to offer an alternative, to recognise that protest has highlighted the issue but now to channel that commitment and energy into the democratic process.”

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph she added: "I am very happy for Saturday protests to keep going.

"The individuals involved have become very good friends with myself. I support their right to peacefully and lawfully protest. But I do believe that any protest strategy must ultimately provide a vision to offer a path from protest to political change.

"I would like to see them more involved in the democratic process and political process and to engage with politicians in order to make that change."

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