Protests have erupted in Northern Ireland in response to a vote by the Belfast City Council to fly the United Kingdom’s flag, with its trademark Union Jack symbol, above City Hall only on designated days, rather than every day of the year as has been the tradition for the past century. But what began as peaceful protests soon became violent riots that authorities have attributed to extremists exploiting the situation for their own purposes.
“A small number of committed people can always create problems for a peaceful democratic majority,” Neil Jarman, director of the Institute for Conflict Research in Belfast, Northern Ireland, told Trend Lines in an email interview. “But I do not think that these protests will ultimately threaten the current stasis in Northern Ireland.”
The protests began in Belfast in early December, Jarman said, but while they have spread to other towns, the recent violence has been almost entirely confined to east Belfast. Jarman said he believes the violence is linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, as well as a section of the community “at odds with the mainstream UVF.”