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The Northern Ireland Flag Riots

For many years Northern Ireland has been fraught with conflict: should the country remain as part of the United Kingdom, or should it become independent? However, this tension has erupted again recently due to the decision made by Belfast City Council at the beginning of December to fly the Union Jack on only 18 allocated days per year – one of which was Kate Middleton’s birthday last week.

Whilst the Nationalists argue that the flag should never be flown, Unionists believe that the flag is part of their cultural identity and that taking this away is equivalent to removing their identity from Northern Ireland.  The potential for conflict here is evident – and not something to be taken lightly.  It must be questioned why these riots developed; perhaps it is because the Unionists distributed over 40,000 leaflets before the City Hall vote or perhaps it is simply because of the underlying tensions.  Evidently, it is important for any group to promote its cause and to attempt to have the people on their side, but was it really sensible for the Unionists to provoke this argument again?

Once again, a protest that started as a peaceful demonstration has turned into a destructive riot with dozens of police officers being injured and over 100 rioters arrested.  Why is this the case? The BBC have claimed that social media, originating with the Nationalists, has played a huge part in spreading the protests from Central Belfast to many other areas of Northern Ireland.  What is particularly worrying is that there are now children as young as eight involved in the riots. It cannot be expected that the problems in Northern Ireland will be solved within this generation, or even the next if young, impersonable children are being exposed to violence in this manner.  There are few who argue there is a simple solution to the debate of whether or not Northern Ireland should be a part of the UK: however, it is evident that this level of violence – especially involving young children – will not help resolve any of the problems soon. 

Perhaps the saddest thing that the BBC have reported so far is that in Rathcoole in Newtownabbey, an elderly man asked protestors to let him pass to see his ill wife in hospital, whereupon he was greeted with jeering and was not allowed to pass.  What started as a genuine debate on the future of Northern Ireland and the underlying symbolism in the flag has spiralled into street protests with the police now having to use water cannons to stop the rioters.  It should by now be clear that after over 40 days of violent protests, this is not a tactic that will achieve anything, but that will only harm their cause as more and more people dislike the tactics that both sides are employing.

It is more promising that the DUP and PUP – both Loyalist parties – are challenging the council decision in a legal way.  They claim that the decision breaches council equality rules and that the public consultation was flawed.  As PUP leader Billy Hutchinson has said: “What I believe is the PUP will move the protests to another level. And by that I mean that all of it will become lawful and peaceful and we believe that there’s another process in terms of protesting and that’s what we would be asking people to follow.” No matter which side of the argument you believe, this sentiment is to be respected and, hopefully, an option which will be followed in the near future. 

These protests are estimated to have cost the country £15 million – and this is set to rise as the economic impact and decline in tourism are fully appreciated.  Nigel Smyth, of the CBI in Northern Ireland has correctly argued that: “The bigger strategic area of concern is perception. Northern Ireland is recovering from 30 years of the troubles, we have moved on significantly, but we are now seeing very negative images going around the world and the impact that will potentially have on tourists coming to Northern Ireland or people wanting to invest in Northern Ireland.”.

It is evident that the people of Northern Ireland have turned once again to violence as an outlet of their frustration and of their disagreement; however, it is clear that this still is not a viable option.  The cost of these troubles is immense: both in terms of economics and of international and national perception, and so, the legal and peaceful challenges are to be commended.  Whether the flag should or should not fly, is a decision for the people of Northern Ireland to make, but if they are ever to resolve their problems then their history of violence must be stopped.



Source: bbc.co.uk

Image Credits: bbc.co.uk

Lauren is the President/Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus Exeter, as well as the Manager of UK Expansion and a National Writer for HerCampus.com. While she has worked with Her Campus Exeter it has achieved Pink Chapter Level status and has grown to its current status as one of the most successful chapters internationally. She's determined to grow Her Campus in the UK this year and so is looking foward to working on increasing the number of HC UK chapters and to helping the established chapters improve and develop. This summer she was lucky enough to intern in the Her Campus Head Office in Boston, and had the most amazing time -- any time she can go back, she will! In her spare time Lauren loves to play tennis, catch up with her friends, go for long walks in the Scottish countryside or to watch chick-flicks under her duvet. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @laurenhudson25.
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