The Assembly should never “kowtow or bow the knee” to extremists, such as some of those involved in the Union flag protests, the Deputy First Minister has said.
Martin McGuinness also offered to meet loyalists involved in the protests — and revealed he has already met representatives of the protesters.
At question time in the Assembly, the senior Sinn Fein figure hit out at what he referred to as “so-called” unionist and republican “anti-peace process” extremists. And he repeated his view that political leaders should ideally be seen as standing shoulder-to-shoulder against both loyalists involved in violence and republican dissidents.
“We need to be standing up against all these people and we need to do it together,” he said.
The remark will be interpreted as renewed criticism of First Minister Peter Robinson, although Mr McGuinness added that his DUP partner in Government is committed to ending the violence linked to the protests, now in their eighth week.
Mr McGuinness was responding to a question from the SDLP’s Alban Maginness, who suggested it was vital that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister were seen to be working together in order to calm the situation.
But the DUP’s Gregory Campbell suggested the Stormont top two should be standing “shoulder-to-shoulder” not just against the recent violence, but all violence in the past.
Ulster Unionist Michael Copeland also asked Mr McGuinness if he agreed that the timing of the vote on limiting the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall had been unhelpful.
However, Mr McGuinness said he thought the focus should remain on the “anti-peace process” loyalists who had called on Mr Robinson to resign and the republican dissidents who had “thought it a good idea to kill a prison officer”.
Extending his offer to meet anyone involved in the flags protest, Mr McGuinness added that he had already met some of those involved and some people who he believed could influence the ending of violence on the streets.
“I am willing to go to the Waterside and speak to people who are protesting,” he added, referring to protests in Londonderry.
Citing the Executive’s £600,000 contribution to the Backin’ Belfast advertising campaign — which promotes special offers from businesses — Mr McGuinness said it was “crucial that we all work together and are all seen to be working together”.
“We are not going to kowtow or bow the knee to their activities,” Mr McGuinness said.