Belfast Telegraph

Flag row didn't unite loyalists, it tore them apart: UDA boss Jackie McDonald

By Brian Rowan

Loyalism has been torn apart in the fallout from the Belfast City Hall flag row, according to a senior loyalist figure.

Leading UDA man Jackie McDonald was speaking as the Cardiff Talks group was due to meet in Belfast tomorrow.

That meeting will bring loyalists, republicans, senior police officers, unionist and nationalist politicians, academics and community figures to the table.

He said the vote to reduce the flying of the Union flag on the City Hall to a designated number of days had caused "anger, rage and hurt".

"We were all angry when it happened, but instead of bringing us together, it tore us apart," he said.

A year on, a huge parade is planned for the end of this month and there are fears that protests could again disrupt city centre trade over the Christmas period.

"There were hopes that the protest organisers and traders would meet before the proposed parade," McDonald said.

"If it was to happen, that might lead to some better understanding of each other's position.

McDonald also appealed to people within the loyalist community to use their votes to bring about change.

"If the flag is worth fighting for, surely it is worth voting for," he said.

The Cardiff Talks group first met in Wales in May after months of street protests and violence.

It was a PSNI initiative designed to try to rebuild relationships between communities and the police.

The mood soured when the Parades Commission ruled that the return leg of a July 12 Orange march in north Belfast could not pass Ardoyne.

"The Cardiff Talks were never about parades. It is about relationships," McDonald added.

"We need loyalism built on reality – not myth or perception. We need to look at exactly where we are, accept reality and then decide what we are going to do, if anything.

"Loyalists are a reactionary people, but sometimes you need to take a deep breath and make sure you don't do what the other side want you to do.

"We try to bring a reality to the room. It's to explain to others how their actions play out within loyalism."

The last time the Cardiff Talks group met in Belfast in September, McDonald and another senior UDA figure John Bunting were taunted by other loyalists on social media.

It indicated not just an opposition to their presence within that dialogue, but further splits within the UDA organisation.

There has been a building tension since, with some now predicting "a parting of the ways" – meaning further fractures within the paramilitary group are seen as inevitable.

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