AFTER almost three months, the time is right to examine whether the Union Flag protests are achieving anything at all. The protests, which were disowned by the mainstream unionist parties some weeks ago, have not improved the image of unionism one bit. They may, in fact, have set back the perception of Northern Ireland’s pro-Union community by years. The disruption caused by the protests is nothing like as severe as it was around Christmas time. But there are two ongoing problems. First, the protests are still on occasion descending into disorder, as happened on Saturday in north Belfast. Second, the large police presence means that the protests are costing the taxpayer a large amount of money at a time of economic hardship. The anger that led to the protests is understandable. Nationalist intolerance of the symbolism of the state to which we belong, the United Kingdom, and which funds our comfortable lifestyle, moved to a new level when the flag was pulled down from Belfast City Hall. This hit a raw nerve among Ulster Protestants. There was always going to come a time when the unionist community, which is still in a majority, was going to draw a line in the sand. So it is understandable and appropriate that the scale of unionist anger has been registered.
The depths of that anger were reflected in a recent BBC Spotlight poll, which showed almost half of unionists supporting continuing protests. This newspaper was one of the first outlets to warn against the removal of the flag. However, if the protests are only making the pro-British population look unattractive – and incurring disruption and cost – then it would be foolish for them to continue indefinitely.