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The Northern Ireland Flag Protests are a series of protests that have been taking place since early December 2012 directed against the decision by Belfast City Council to fly the Union flag (of the United Kingdom) over Belfast City Hall on only 18 days of the year. Many Loyalist/Unionist communities felt that this was an attack on Northern Ireland’s, and their own, British identities, as the flag (a common symbol of Unionism) had been flying continuously over the town hall since 1906.
Demonstrations have literally been taking place since the moment the motion was passed, and whilst most have been peaceful, many turned violent. These riots became major news across Northern Ireland and across the World due to their severity, causing many injuries to the local police forces and untold damage to the reputation of Northern Ireland.
On the 3rd December 2012, Belfast City Council voted to fly the Union flag (of the United Kingdom) over Belfast City Hall only on 18 designated days of the year, as opposed to the earlier policy of flying the flag at all times. Nationalists on the council had originally wanted to take down the flag altogether, but, in order to get the votes they needed, they reached a compromise with the mostly-neutral Alliance party to fly the flag only occasionally.
There were peaceful protests outside the town hall in anticipation of this vote, however when the motion was passed they became a riot. Unionist protests, both violent and peaceful, broke out over the following weeks all across the province, including Ballymena and Coleraine, but mostly in Belfast. The Alliance party was especially targeted, as they had the deciding vote, and some of their offices were destroyed and members sent death threats.
The riots and protests continued through Christmas, blocking roads and bringing Belfast to an effective standstill at times, causing much grievance for local people. Businesses in Belfast were badly affected by the rioting, especially as they interfered with Christmas shopping and prevented many from visiting the city. Heavy snowfall only exacerbated matters.
The violence was condemned by the UK Prime-Minister David Cameron, Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, and even Hillary Clinton. Politicians and local businessmen were worried about how the riots would affect the image of Northern Ireland (especially as it was already recovering from decades of horrific sectarian violence – The Troubles) and how tourism would be impacted.
The local police service, the PSNI, has spent millions and incurred many injuries, though fortunately no fatalities, trying to control the security crisis.
Most people in Northern Ireland ridiculed the riots and viewed the situation very negatively. Protesters were mocked for demonstrating about a single flag, or ‘piece of cloth’ as many degraded it to, and locals got angry at them for their detrimental effect on the local economy and international opinion of the province. The flag in question is often referred to as the ‘fleg’, a colloquial pronunciation of ‘flag’ based on the Belfast accent. Meme pictures were created to parody the violent protests, often referring to Irish sitcom “Father Ted”.
Belfast Bigot, or “No Surrender”, is the name given to the woman who was recording shouting “NO SURRENDER!” (A phrase made famous by the charismatic Unionist Ian Paisley) multiple times through a broken window into Belfast City Hall during a Unionist protest in Northern Ireland.
She is the most famous single protester, and the video appeared on local news and proved very popular among the people of Northern Ireland, who turned it into numerous remixes and parodies on YouTube.
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