Irish Republican News · December 28, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Flags tension dissipates


Protests by loyalists and hardline unionists on the issue of flying the British flag at Belfast City Hall have sharply decreased in size and number.

Just 70 protesters gathered for a flag demonstration on Saturday, and only 20 turning up for a city centre protest on Thursday. Previous city centre demonstrations had seen crowds of up to 1,000 force the closure of the continental market and cause massive disruption to shoppers and traders.

The protests are an attempt to force a u-turn by Belfast city councillors after they voted to reduce the number of days on which the Union Jack flies over Belfast City Hall.

Earlier this month, it was decided to fly the British flag on 17 designated days, in line with most other civic buildings.

The reduced pickets follow weeks of traffic chaos in Belfast and other locations as the PSNI police declined to prevent loyalists from blocking main roads and engaging in disturbances. Mob violence and riots also broke out at several such events.

Last Friday, on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, loyalist roadblocks again caused huge disruption to commuters and shoppers. Dozens of protests were held across greater Belfast, and although they were much smaller than previously, they remained effective in causing disruption.

There were also fresh clashes in the lower Newtownards Road area of east Belfast later as petrol bombs and other missiles were thrown at police. Further protests were also held in other towns around the north.

But this week, protestors were outnumbered by tourists and onlookers, and politicians said things had moved on.

One long-serving SDLP councillor, Pat McCarthy, said attempts to intimidate councillors into reversing their decision had failed.

“They can do what they want but the democratic vote has been taken and it is for designated days,” he said.

“I stood and watched them and ordinary people were standing there and watching them as well and laughing at them.”

A recent vote by Newry council to name a small local park after former hunger striker Raymond McCreesh has also infuriated unionists.

DUP councillor Ruth Patterson, who took part in one protest, claimed there was a Sinn Fein plot to undermine unionism by “dilution”.

“The stripping and chipping away of items from within city hall that are British, military or loyal is an antagonising ploy by Sinn Fein to rub salt into an already seeping wound,” she wrote.

Among the other blows she listed were changes to the murderous B Specials, UDR and RUC and restrictions on loyal order marches.

“Orange, Black and Apprentice Boys parades have rigorous restrictions placed upon them,” she wrote.

“You can play here but you can’t play there. You can march here but you can’t march there.”

“And now to add insult to injury the Protestant people have seen the removal of their beloved Union flag from the most iconic building in the capital city of Northern Ireland.”

Former Mayor of Belfast, Sinn Fein’s Niall O Donnghaile, said Ms Patterson was wrong.

“In relation to city hall she is wrong. There is no erosion and there has not been any erosion,” he said.

“Anybody who walks around Belfast City Hall will see there has been no erosion of British, unionist or military symbols.

“As for the B Specials and the UDR, they are both discredited sectarian gangs.”

Mr O Donnghaile urged his unionist counterpart to show “leadership” to those who elected her.

“This is about equality and nobody, including Ruth Patterson, should fear equality,” he said.

“If unionists and loyalists have had poor leadership, she is an elected representative so she should show some leadership.

“Belfast is not a city of the UDR or the B Specials or one-party rule. It’s a city for all and there is a place for us all in this city.”

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© 2012 Irish Republican News