UNIONIST opposition to the lowering of the Union Flag on Belfast City Hall is totally legitimate and well-intended, but the violence that marred the protest there on Monday night was counter-productive and has to be denounced as being totally unacceptable in a peaceful, democratic society.
Feelings were running high over a decision by Alliance councillors to side with the Sinn Fein and SDLP bloc in the council chamber to remove the national emblem from being flown 365 days of the year, but this is no excuse for a minority element of protestors to attack police and council stewards.
The council decision to back the flying of the Union Flag on council property only on 17 designated days of the year came about with the support of Alliance, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, with the 21 unionist councillors against.
Some might see this as a compromise, but unionists recognise that, with republicans and nationalists voting tactically on this issue, it is the thin end of the wedge and, ultimately, if an opportunity arises again, there will be yet another bid to remove all vestiges of Britishness from the City Hall.
Meanwhile, in Newry and Mourne, republican councillors are still unashamedly wedded to the murderous legacy of the IRA armed struggle by naming a children’s park after a dead hunger striker. So much for the equality and mutual respect that Sinn Fein is demanding in Belfast.
Unionists are now bidding to have the Union Flag flown perpetually at the Cenotaph in the City Hall grounds which would be appropriate recognition of the enormous sacrifice made by Belfast men and women of all traditions in the uniform of the Crown. For Alliance councillors to have any credibility in unionist areas, they may feel obliged to back such a move.