The editor of Northern Ireland’s main nationalist newspaper was star speaker at the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party conference at the weekend.
In a ground-breaking invitation, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson asked Irish News editor Noel Doran to address the meeting in Lurgan, Co Armagh.
Doran was asked by the PUP to advise them what the party needs to do to be taken seriously by the paper’s broadly catholic and nationalist readership. The PUP has strong historical links to the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force.
Last summer was particularly tense in Northern Ireland after Belfast City Council, which no longer has a unionist majority, restricted the flying of the union flag on council property to specified days such as the Queen’s birthday.
This caused outrage among sections of the loyalist community and led to rioting in some areas of Belfast and other towns across Northern Ireland. A number of PUP members have appeared before the courts following the violence.
He told the meeting: “I suppose I am really suggesting that nationalists have been pragmatic about the border and events have moved forward as a result, and it may well be time for unionists in general and perhaps your party in particular to be a little more philosophical about flags and parades.”
Speaking to Press Gazette, Doran said: “We have reported extensively on the involvement of the PUP in recent street protests across Northern Ireland in connection with disputes over flags and parades, and have been pretty critical of its role.
“Perhaps surprisingly, I was asked to be the main speaker at the PUP conference and explain to delegates what they needed to do to be taken seriously by readers of The Irish News.
“It is certainly that first time that I have been invited to participate in any party conference, never mind a loyalist event, and I do not recall another editor from a Belfast paper playing such a role.
“However, it all passed off very well and what were intended as constructive criticisms from me generated a decent debate on the day.”