Loyalist protesters in Belfast have been marching against the City Council’s decision that the United Kingdom’s flag, the Union Jack, will no longer be flown above City Hall year-round.
The decision, reached by a council vote on December 3, came from a compromise motion proposed by the centrist Alliance Party that the Union Jack would be flown on 17 designated days – including birthdays of the royal family. Nationalists had wanted the flag to be permanently removed from City Hall; loyalists wanted to continue flying it daily.
Loyalists have protested most nights since the decision. Despite calls for peaceful action, many have wielded hatchets, sledge hammers and gasoline bombs, and children as young as 10 have been involved in attacks on members of the police force, who have responded with plastic bullets and water cannons. As of January 7, 52 police officers were injured and close to 100 protesters had been arrested.
Alliance party members and one journalist reported receiving death threats in the mail.
An editorial in the Belfast Telegraph spoke to the general reaction throughout the city: “The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want no part of this violence. They have endured too much to see the fragile peace snatched away from them.”