EAST Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan has held what he described as a “historic” first public meeting in Larne town hall.
The Assemblyman said he believes it was the first time a Sinn Fein representative had staged a meeting in the town centre.
A small number of Union flag protesters staged a peaceful vigil outside the meeting, where an audience which Mr McMullan estimated at around “two dozen” heard from the local Assemblyman, West Belfast MLA Fra McCann and Coast Road councillor James McKeown on the subject of benefits cuts.
“It was very encouraging for our first meeting in Larne town centre and there will be another, with the date and venue to be announced,” said Mr McMullan.
“Obviously,” he added, “we would have liked to have more people there, but it was a very good meeting, with a lively question-and-answer session and quite a few issues raised which we are following up on behalf of the people concerned.”
He added: “Our constituency office in Carnlough is dealing with an increasing number of enquiries from Larne town, including people who are not from a nationalist/republican background, and that is good to see because the benefits cuts affect people from all sections of the community, which is why I was disappointed that the flag protest was held. The flags issue is a political one and I acknowledge the right to peaceful protest, but this was a public meeting about the massive changes to the benefits system, which is something that impacts people right across the board and I don’t think it is the right place for a flag protest.
“ I am urging now that all the local political representatives should sit down together and show leadership.
“The Welfare Bill is still going through the Assembly and it is very important that all the parties are singing from the same hymn sheet because there are still a few who are dancing to the Tory tune on benefits cuts,” said Mr McMullan.