Thousands at City Hall flag protest

Published Saturday, 08 December 2012
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Up to 2,000 people gathered outside Belfast City Hall on Saturday in a protest that saw the city centre come to a standstill.

Thousands at City Hall flag protest
Loyalist protesters converge on Belfast City Hall (© Pacemaker)

The Christmas Market was closed temporarily as loyalist demonstrators, many wearing Union flags, gathered at the front of the building.

It comes after a majority of Belfast City Councillors voted in favour of a motion restricting the flying of the Union Flag over the landmark building to 17 days a year.

During the protest, a small crowd gathered around an Irish Tricolour before setting fire to the flag.

UTV Reporter Judith Hill said protesters cheered and waved flags as they walked around the building.

"Some of them have climbed the gates of the front of the City Hall, draping lamp posts and the gates in Union flags," she said.

Others carried large banners proclaiming: "Ulster is British. No Surrender" and "The innocent victims of Ulster cry out for justice".

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson appealed for protesters to keep "cool and calm heads".

"The message that the unionist people have is an excellent one," he said.

"What violence does is it drowns out the message and it can't be heard. I'm asking people to make sure that the message goes across very loud and clear and that is that the Union Flag has been removed from the City Hall."

Up to 300 people walked into the city along the Lower Newtownards Road carrying flags and singing. While many wore scarves to cover their faces, police called for those wearing masks to remove them or face arrest.

A large crowd also walked from Sandy Row to join the protest.

There have been too many nights of disorder across Northern Ireland and now is the time to move forward.

ACC Will Kerr

Saturday was expected to be the busiest shopping day of the year, and Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr had called for protesters to stay away. He later welcomed the largely peaceful nature of the demonstration and appealed for calm.

"It is now incumbent on everyone to ensure the wanton scenes of violence we have witnessed in recent nights are not repeated tonight and indeed any other night as we move closer towards Christmas," he said.

ACC Kerr asked those participating in the disorder to "think seriously about the consequences" on Northern Ireland's economy and tourism.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott also thanked the public and traders for their patience during Saturday's protest.

"I appreciate the fact that recent events have had an impact on both the public and traders and I would like to put my appreciation for their patience on record.

"I would also like to commend my colleagues for their professionalism during today's policing operation and indeed in recent days and nights. Once again, they are on the frontline, protecting the public they serve and they will continue to do so over the coming days and weeks."

A total of eight people were arrested for public order offences in the city on Saturday.

The Christmas Market later reopened and traffic diversions in place across the city centre were removed.

Loyalist demonstrators burn the Tricolour outside Belfast City Hall.

© UTV News
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184 Comments
Colin in Comber wrote (737 days ago):
Why was the removal of the flag even down to the members of belfast city council? this is Northern Ireland, this is part of Great Britain wether sinn fien like it or not. and the city hall is a Government building. The removal of the union flag from a government building should not have been a matter for a few republican council workers whos only aim is to stir trouble, its a matter for the British government to decide if it stays or goes.
Talk sense in Belfast wrote (739 days ago):
Sick of all these people going on about this situation being in place because people didn't vote. Firstly if we had someone good up vote for then voting figures would have been higher - unionist politicians need to get their act together and be worth a vote. Secondly if the issue was not about the gag if would be something ends - there is an ongoing campaign to discredit Protestant culture. Therefore the last thing needed is more blame or to hold Protestants responsible for this situation - the ones sitting quiet at the moment are the ones who threw the flag grenade and alliance were daft enough to light it.
Tut tut in Carrickfergus by the sea! wrote (739 days ago):
Tut tut tut... Flag, flag, flag... ' Big yawn.' Wake me up when this is over. Ta... Oh, & I take just the 1 sugar in my milky tea. Thanks very many. Ur a diamond in the ruff kid. ;-)
a bored tax paying citizen of this wee land in belfast wrote (739 days ago):
So sick of hearing/seeing this rubbish.... has anyone actually bothered to stop and realise that the 'fleg' has not been taken from anyone..... it is being flown in line with the rest of the 'British isle' so stop yapping and crying about the shinners taking away heritage and culture... on both sides i think we need a wee reality check and create a new identity for our wee land. Its nearly 2013 not the 70s...
PurplePoppy in Belfast wrote (739 days ago):
I think she probably means over a million unionists and indeed the census does show that. It also shows that only 25% of the population of NI identify themselves as Irish only. The vast majority see themselves as either only British or British and Northern Irish. Northern Ireland local issues have nothing to do with the ROI. It's a different country and it seems from the census most prefer it to stay that way. Besides the ROI has enough problems of its own.
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