Heightened sectarian tensions over the Union flag could be ratcheted up further by protester plans to target GAA matches and the annual Bloody Sunday march. DUP HQ could also be picketed by loyalists as part of plans to change the direction of the demonstrations after a review of tactics.
A planned conference of the Ulster People's Forum (UPF) could reduce street level flag protests in favour of publicity-orientated events like a band rally at DUP headquarters and demonstrations on the way to GAA matches.
Last night (Thursday) Jamie Bryson, a member of UPF, refused to comment on specific proposals but confirmed that a review was under way. He said: "Flag protests will continue; whether they will continue in the current format or move onto a new phase is a question I can't answer yet."
Proposals understood to be under consideration include:
- Flag protests at Westminster.
- Protests outside GAA matches or on the route to them, aimed at persuading the association to stop using the names of dead republicans for awards and grounds.
- Band pickets at DUP offices.
- Asking for a special investigation team set up to report on alleged Irish government collusion with the IRA.
- The establishment of a working group.
When asked to comment on the idea of disrupting GAA match-goers, UPF spokesman Willie Frazer said there would be no protests inside GAA grounds.
"That would be too confrontational," he added. Mr Byrson predicted a conference would happen "this weekend or the start of next week" and "then it will be for the people to decide what to do next".
In Londonderry, concerns have been heightened after organisers of a flag protest scheduled to coincide with a march commemorating Bloody Sunday said the move was deliberate to bring maximum publicity to the "erosion of loyalists' civil rights".
A protest will take place at Ebrington in the Waterside on January 27 at the same time as a march to commemorate Bloody Sunday is due to get under way across the River Foyle. The organisers of both events gave recognition to the right to hold protests and have called for no violence.
Leslie Mitchell from the PUP said the loyalist population see their civil rights being eroded and described holding a protest on the day traditionally set aside for commemorating Bloody Sunday as "completely appropriate".
He said: "This is in no way an objection to the Bloody Sunday march. This is about civil rights. As with every other protest, we call for this protest to be peaceful."
A relative of one of the Bloody Sunday victims, Kate Nash, said she can see no reason why the protest in Ebrington should not be held on the same day as the Bloody Sunday march.
She said: "Everyone has the right to peaceful protest, but within the law, and there must not be any violence or interference with others."