The 70 flag protestors who turned out to City Hall and stood peacefully as an anti-G8 rally took place just feet away should be commended, according to the leader of the PUP.
Billy Hutchinson joined those gathered in the city centre on Saturday as they continued their weekly protest over the reduction in the number of days the flag flies from City Hall.
Mr Hutchinson was seen speaking to the throng of police officers separating the protestors from the 2,000 people who had converged on the centre of the capital to make known their opposition to the G8 summit taking place in Northern Ireland on Monday.
He later told the News Letter there had been frustration on the part of the flag protestors that the weekly demonstration was being overshadowed but he said everyone there accepted the situation was an exceptional one.
“Today these are exceptional circumstances, G8’s in the country, there’s going to be anti-G8 protests,” he said. “People just need to realise that sometimes circumstances are created that we have no control over. “I think the flag protestors have come, they’ve stood here and they’ll walk away at 2o’clock and I think that’s great.”
Boos and jeers were heard from some loyalists when rally speakers took the stage on the lorry positioned at the gates of City Hall, but such a huge police presence ensured there was no trouble on the day.
In response to suggestions just one protest should have taken place on Saturday, Mr Hutchinson said the anti-G8 parade and rally from Custom House Square through the city to the centre of Belfast, was not one his community felt a part of.
He said: “There’s been a lot of media who’ve been angry and saying why can you not have the one protest? But it’s anti-British, and nobody can say it’s not. And then we have the appearance of the 32-county sovereignty flag which actually proves that they’re here because they’re anti-British.”
Teena Patrick, a PUP member from west Belfast, said the lengths police went to to facilitate the anti-G8 demonstrators simply reinforced the unequal treatment faced by the flag protestors.
“Look at this protest, loads of people have flags, we haven’t been able to walk with our Union flag for months,” she said. “We’ve had people brought in and prosecuted because they’ve stepped onto the road. We have roads blocked all over this city because of this protest. Is that equality? It’s not.”