A new study into the motivation of those involved in the Union Flag protest should be honestly addressed by politicians and not turned into a political football, the organisation who commissioned the report has warned.
Revealed on the The Detail website, the report – Flags and Protests: Exploring the Views, Perceptions and Experiences of People Directly and Indirectly Affected by the Flag Protests – is understood to be the first academic attempt to examine the motivation of those involved in the year long flag protests.
The research, commissioned by the Intercomm peace-building agency, was carried out by Dr Jonny Byrne, a lecturer at the University of Ulster’s School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy.
The flag issue and the expression of cultural identity remains one of the most controversial topics currently being discussed by the all-party talks being chaired by Richard Haass.
Over a six-month period earlier this year Dr Byrne interviewed separate focus groups of women and young people who had taken part in flag protests.
In an effort to understand the wider societal impact of the protests, Dr Byrne also interviewed 12 church leaders and discussed the personal experiences of police officers involved in the flag protests with the PSNI.
The author points out that the research does not attempt to judge the rights or wrongs of those involved in the flag protest, but instead attempts to provide a “window of understanding” into the thinking of those at the centre of the ongoing demonstrations.
The report’s main finding identifies a growing sense of alienation within some sections of loyalism, which was brought to the fore with the start of the flag’s issue in December 2012.
It concludes that a section of loyalism is now “completely disengaged” from the political institutions, with many believing that mainstream unionism has abandoned them.
Many of those interviewed felt that they were no longer allowed to include unionist/loyalist cultures and traditions within the new Northern Ireland.
The report also raises the concerns of some church leaders that the growing disconnection with mainstream unionism could lead to an increase in militant loyalism.
Intercomm director Liam Maskey, whose organisation commissioned the research, said it was vital that the report’s conclusions are addressed “openly and honestly”.
“It is imperative that society as a whole considers the detail contained in this research,” he said.
“No single section of society, nor one single government department can look to deal with these matters alone and neither should they be asked to. To take these matters seriously, all strands of our society need to take these research findings on board.”