AS debate raged over flying the Union Flag from Belfast City Hall in the weeks prior to Monday’s vote, many UUP and DUP members believed that it was politically harming the Alliance Party.
The moment the City Hall was stormed by loyalists on Monday night, it was clear that any political gain vanished.
By the end of the week it had become a crisis.
On Thursday night, Davy Sims, the man who took over from Alex Kane as the UUP’s director of communications in 2010, said that he had paid £79 to join Alliance.
If Mr Sims, who describes himself as a Catholic unionist, is being pushed from unionism to Alliance, it is clear that this crisis has the potential to be catastrophic for attempts to broaden unionism’s appeal.
Polls show growing Catholic support for the Union and Peter Robinson has been attempting to win the votes of those pro-Union Catholics.
But a relentless focus by the DUP on recapturing East Belfast from Naomi Long appears to have clouded that vision to an extent that even after a night of attacks on Alliance which some likened to Nazi Germany’s infamous Kristallnacht, people such as Sammy Wilson and Mike Nesbitt (although condemning the violence) sounded crass in their full-frontal attacks on Alliance.
Yesterday the DUP appeared to realise that and released a statement from Mr Robinson within an hour of news breaking about death threats towards Ms Long.
By contrast, the UUP only released a similar statement from Mr Nesbitt after seven hours.
The internet gives unprecedented insight into the motivation of those protesting and the hundreds of messages from protestors show the overwhelming majority to be disillusioned with both the DUP and UUP.
One Alliance source said last night that in 24 hours the party has had “more than 20 new members” and “hundreds of pounds” in donations.
While the DUP is likely to see out this storm, the UUP, which was already losing support to Alliance, finds itself in a perilous position.