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Belfast flag protesters won’t be told what to do, you have to involve them, insists UDA chief

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Loyalists have been protesting against a decision to stop flying the Union flag every day outside Belfast City Hall

Loyalists have been protesting against a decision to stop flying the Union flag every day outside Belfast City Hall

Loyalists block roads in north Belfast as the ongoing flag dispute continues

Loyalists block roads in north Belfast as the ongoing flag dispute continues

The scene on the Upper Newtownards Road beside Alliance Party east Belfast MP Naomi Long's office where a PSNI patrol car (left) was petrol bomb reportedly with officers sitting inside

The scene on the Upper Newtownards Road beside Alliance Party east Belfast MP Naomi Long's office where a PSNI patrol car (left) was petrol bomb reportedly with officers sitting inside

Loyalists took to the streets again in protest against a decision by Belfast City Council to restrict the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall

Loyalists took to the streets again in protest against a decision by Belfast City Council to restrict the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall

Officers deal with disturbances in the Village area of south Belfast

Officers deal with disturbances in the Village area of south Belfast

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

PSNI officers deal with disturbances in the Village area of south Belfast

PSNI officers deal with disturbances in the Village area of south Belfast

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Officers deal with disturbances in the Village area of south Belfast

Officers deal with disturbances in the Village area of south Belfast

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

PSNI officers deal with disturbances in the Village area of south Belfast

PSNI officers deal with disturbances in the Village area of south Belfast

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

PSNI officers deal with disturbances in the Village area of south Belfast near Broadway roundabout

PSNI officers deal with disturbances in the Village area of south Belfast near Broadway roundabout

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

PSNI officers and loyalists clash in the Village area of south Belfast near the Broadway roundabout

PSNI officers and loyalists clash in the Village area of south Belfast near the Broadway roundabout

The scene on the Upper Newtownards Road beside Alliance Party east Belfast MP Naomi Long's office where a PSNI patrol car was petrol bomb reportedly with officers sitting inside

The scene on the Upper Newtownards Road beside Alliance Party east Belfast MP Naomi Long's office where a PSNI patrol car was petrol bomb reportedly with officers sitting inside

SNI officers and loyalists clash in the Village area of south Belfast near the Broadway roundabout

SNI officers and loyalists clash in the Village area of south Belfast near the Broadway roundabout

PSNI officers and loyalists clash in the Village area of south Belfast near the Broadway roundabout

PSNI officers and loyalists clash in the Village area of south Belfast near the Broadway roundabout

PSNI officers and loyalists clash in the Village area of south Belfast near the Broadway roundabout

PSNI officers and loyalists clash in the Village area of south Belfast near the Broadway roundabout

PSNI officers and loyalists clash in the Village area of south Belfast near the Broadway roundabout

PSNI officers and loyalists clash in the Village area of south Belfast near the Broadway roundabout

Loyalist protesters in Belfast city centre protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag

Loyalist protesters in Belfast city centre protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag

Loyalists in Belfast city centre protesting against restrictions on flying the Union flag

Loyalists in Belfast city centre protesting against restrictions on flying the Union flag

Loyalist protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalist protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Shoppers watch protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Shoppers watch protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Shoppers leave Belfast City Hall's Christmas Market as loyalists arrive at the building to protest the removal of the Union flag

Shoppers leave Belfast City Hall's Christmas Market as loyalists arrive at the building to protest the removal of the Union flag

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Oprotesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon after the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Oprotesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon after the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon after the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon after the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Belfast City Hall's Christmas Market is shut as protesters arrive at the building

Belfast City Hall's Christmas Market is shut as protesters arrive at the building

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon following the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon following the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon following the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon following the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

PACEMAKER BELFAST   08/12/12 Loyalist protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union Jack flag earlier this week.Photo Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/12/12 Loyalist protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union Jack flag earlier this week.Photo Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

Protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon following the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Protesters converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon following the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists in Belfast city centre for a protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag

Loyalists in Belfast city centre for a protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag

Paul Faith

Loyalists in Belfast city centre for a protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag

Loyalists in Belfast city centre for a protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag

Paul Faith

Protesters in Belfast city centre rally against new restrictions on flying the Union flag

Protesters in Belfast city centre rally against new restrictions on flying the Union flag

Paul Faith

Protesters in Belfast city centre rally against new restrictions on flying the Union flag

Protesters in Belfast city centre rally against new restrictions on flying the Union flag

Paul Faith

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

Loyalists have been protesting against a decision to stop flying the Union flag every day outside Belfast City Hall

As senior loyalists prepare to meet First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson in flag crisis talks, a prominent UDA figure has warned that paramilitaries and protest organisers must be part of any solution.

Both the PUP and the Ulster Political Research Group, with links to the UVF and UDA, were invited to yesterday's talks.

This newspaper understands Mr Robinson has already met senior paramilitary figures, including Jackie McDonald. That meeting took place at Stormont on Monday, with another of the UDA’s so-called ‘brigadiers’ John Bunting also present.

Asked to comment, McDonald told the Belfast Telegraph: “If you try to come to a resolution without the people involved (in the protests) it won’t work.”

McDonald said the protesters won’t be told what to do.

“You have to ask them and involve them,” he said. “If they are part of the problem, then they have to be part of the answer.

“We can’t let it drift. We have to get a hold of it,” he said.

PUP leader and former Stormont MLA Billy Hutchinson also confirmed that he has been invited to today’s talks.

“I would hope to give leadership

about where we need to go next,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

He described “frustration” on the ground but said it needed “to be channelled in the right way”.

And on the continuing flag row and other issues, he said: “The focus must remain on Sinn Fein. Politics is about the art of compromise, not the art of surrender.”

Like McDonald, Hutchinson believes loyalists and not unionist political leaders are best placed to try to bring this crisis to an end. Asked what he would be saying to Mr Robinson, he said: “Leadership needs to be given. He needs to support others out there trying to bring this to an end.”

The backdrop to the talks is the continuing attacks and threats aimed at Alliance and other politicians, and Monday’s incident in east Belfast when police guarding the offices of Naomi Long MP were targeted in a petrol bomb attack. A woman officer had a lucky escape in the incident which is being treated as a murder bid.

Police have linked paramilitary figures to the on-going violence, but are not saying it is being centrally ordered by the so-called brigade staff and inner council leaderships.

Rather, the assessment is that some local leaders are pulling the strings in this violent street play.

A senior UVF figure in the Village is among those identified as being involved, as well as another of that organisation’s leaders in east Belfast. The breakaway UDA brigade in south east Antrim has also been linked to violence, as have members of the mainstream paramilitary group.

“That begs the question, what’s the point in having a centre?” a PSNI source commented, in a reference to the apparent inability or unwillingness of the central leaderships to rein their members in.

Ahead of today’s talks, Hutchinson said the UVF and Red Hand Commando leaderships were 100% behind his strategy of “unarmed resistance”.

In interviews yesterday he said paramilitary organisations should expel any of their members involved in the street violence.

He added the petrol bomb attack on police in Belfast had “sent shockwaves through unionism”.

Belfast Telegraph