Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has slammed the loyalist flag protesters for tarnishing the Good Friday agreement and peace in Northern Ireland.

The North’s Deputy First Minister told a meeting of young Republicans in Belfast that the last three months have been ‘bad for the peace process.’

Speaking to the Sinn Féin Republican Youth national congress, McGuinness said that recent protests and violence linked to the union flag row had undermined the Belfast Agreement.

The Irish Times reports that McGuinness accused those behind the flag protests of a cynical and sectarian agenda.

He said: “Issues of identity have been cynically used to promote a narrow, sectarian agenda, resulting in dozens of young Protestants arrested and jailed.

“It would be far better they were in fora like this, discussing the future with their republican peers, rather than lying in Hydebank or Maghaberry prisons.”

McGuinness went on to tell the meeting that he placed the blame at the feet of unionist political leaders.

He added: “They have set the path and then retreated to their ivory towers, denying culpability and responsibility.

“I have listened very carefully to the various reasons being put forward by those involved in the protests and in the violence . . . I have met with some of those involved. None of them can excuse what has been happening on our streets.”