Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Unionist Forum a two-edged sword

Given that his father and four other close relatives were killed by the IRA, it is hardly surprising that Willie Frazer, now emerging as one of the leaders of the continuing flag protests, holds strong anti-republican views.

As a former spokesman for a Protestant victims' group he has been a long-time critic of the IRA and Sinn Fein and has been involved in a number of stunts to highlight what he describes as unfair treatment of those left bereaved or injured by republican violence.

He is seen by the wider public as something of a maverick figure and many will have that view reinforced by the interview he has given to this newspaper. He sees the flag protests as a vehicle for articulating wider grievances held by some in the Protestant/unionist/loyalist community.

There is no doubt that he echoes the feelings of disenchantment and disenfranchisement which those in underprivileged unionist heartlands experience. He argues that any peace dividend has bypassed this section of the community.

But few will agree with his suggestion that Northern Ireland would be better off under direct rule. To him, that seemed to provide greater certainty than the current power-sharing arrangement where, of necessity, there has to be give and take on many issues if the administration is to function even in a limited capacity. No doubt he would prefer a stern "not an inch" mentality, but unionist leaders must resist the temptation to yield to such pressure.

Mr Frazer may represent a vision of Northern Ireland shared by some, but his past electoral forays show that he has minimal support.

Certainly the legitimate grievances he airs should be considered at Stormont - by all parties - but they cannot be regarded as a brake on measures such as the log-jammed shared future policy.

The proposed Unionist Forum could be a two-edged sword for Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt. Having called on all groups to give views, they may be confronted with demands which will test their resolve as leaders of the main unionist parties.

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