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Belfast Troubles Over Flag

  • January 10th, 2013
  • Posted by EUEditor

belfast-town-hall-protest.jpgThe city of Belfast, long the scene of bloodshed over Northern Ireland’s continued inclusion within the United Kingdom, and over religion, was back on edge over the flying, or non-flying of the British flag atop the city’s Town Hall.


british-flag.jpgOn Wednesday (9.1.13) the Union flag (picture) was raised to mark the birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate nee Middleton, wife of Prince William, in a moment of calm; but in the aftermath of five days of rowdy protest and fighting around the building, which had extended into the weekend.

In the background, the Belfast City Council has seen a growth in the number of nationalist, Catholic members in recent years, who were able to get a majority for ending the practice of flying the flag every day.

Unionist parties have been suffering some demographic shifts against them, and struggling to get out the vote by comparison with their opposition, maybe lacking the catalyst of a burning issue, which now might have arrived.

To outsiders it might seem normal, that while Belfast remains part of the United Kingdom, they would fly the national flag over an important public building every day.


But given the history of bitterness surrounding the symbols of nation and tribe in Northern Ireland, the nationalists on the Council were able to argue that they needed to create a neutral space – and the flag was seen by many people as rudely partisan, never neutral at all.

A minor party, the non-sectarian Alliance, which grew out of a moderate unionist movement in the past, has the balance of power in the Council, and it agreed with the neutrality idea.

With its votes, on 3.12.12 the decision went 29-21 to only fly the flag 18-20 days a year, for special occasions; and then, as the saying goes, “all hell broke loose”.


belfast-town-hall-protest-fire.jpgLoyalist demonstrations began in the hundreds, mounting to several thousand, with by night outbreaks of violence; young men throwing petrol bombs, police using rubber bullets and water cannon; scenes reminiscent of the past decades of sectarian uproar in the city.

  • See VIDEO (Reuters),

What has put Belfast on edge is the memory of the “troubles”, from 1969-98, the raging period of insurrection, terror, thuggery and crime that saw the once highly-prosperous city saddened, shamed and soiled, eventually brought to an exhausted settlement.

ulster-pub-21.jpgAn accord in 1998 led to stages of detente and a conditional, but abiding peace, until this week being called into question with the re-emergence of old enmities.

also, EUAustralia Online: “Bloody Sunday findings …”, 16.10.12; “Ulster troubles – bad reminder”, 14.7.09; “Just looking: Belfast works on a good look for the future”, 15.5.07.


Henry McDonald, “Economic reality puts Belfast union flag row into perspective”, The Guardian, Manchester, 6.12.12., (10.1.13).

Reuters, London, VIDEO: “Third night of violence in Belfast”, 6.1.13., (10.1.13).