Published on 13 Jan 2013

Belfast’s silent majority makes a noise

A cold coming they had of it – one of the most raw days yet of winter with rain in central Belfast and a dusting of white atop the Black Mountain looming west of town.

Armed with a metal stick to whack an empty Guinness can, or a whistle and harmonica, the odd trombone (aren’t all trombones a wee bit odd…)you name it, the weapons of mass commotion were assembled.

The idea? For five minutes make the biggest cacophony possible to show the silent majority is not, well, silent any longer.

Yesterday the loyalist working class in hoodies, trackies and Rangers scarves. Today it was all quilted jackets, Barbour, tweedy caps and novelty woolen headgear with some heavy ear-muff action. The middle-class were out to make noise.

All around the chat was about the effect a relatively small amount of violence is having on business. The fear-factor.

The hotel receptionist who tells me they’ve been having cancellations all week. The taxi-operator who talks ruefully about the worst Christmas and New Year in 26 years in the business.

Wander around this friendly, educated and articulate crowd and you pick up such snatches on chat all over the gathering of around a thousand.

Appreciative too – offers to come and film aspects of “the real Belfast” have come from all over this week and no wonder when, as one here puts it: “So few people out there can almost bring the city to a standstill. It’s important to show the violence is anything but the full picture of our great city.”

No flags here by request of the organisers – there have probably been enough seen here on recent days.

And shortly after the five noisy minutes they headed home. The point has been made now for a second time. The previous gathering being just before Christmas.

Yet, yesterday saw 29 police officers injured on the streets of east Belfast. The worst day yet in weeks of this.

The small, violent minority are showing a sustained taste for street confrontation the length of which is unseen in N Ireland for very many years.

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20 reader comments

  1. Naomi McCoy says:

    Just seen your report on the news this evening. Thank you for giving such a balanced view.

  2. Zhenia Mahdi-Nau says:

    We attach so much value to ethnicity and ‘our culture’ associated with symbols, instead of our common identity of belonging to the human race. I recently made a feature length documentary film ‘Tapestry of Colour’ which looks at the fusion of cultures in Northern Ireland and challenges our notions of identity and culture. It features personal and moving accounts with individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures, from locals to settlers, set against very colourful and unusual festivals that took place in Northern Ireland in 2012, with a strong emphasis on music. You can see the trailer at: https://vimeo.com/47265354.

    It was previewed at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast in September 2012 to a packed audience of VIPs and ordinary people from government bodies, education, the arts and organisations which work toward equality and inclusion, before any of the current disturbing situation was affecting the life of the city and its people.

    It never occurred to me at the time of making it that so soon the content and messages of the film would became extremely relevant and even more timely. It is my belief that where ever we may have been born, to what ever ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’, whatever the colour of our skin, our eyes, our hair, what ever our education, our dialect and accent, whatever foods we choose to eat, music we choose to listen to, clothes we choose to wear, whatever our different practices and beliefs, we are all human with the right to live in a peaceful society. For me, my race is the human race and my culture, ‘art’.

    ‘Tapestry of Colours’ will be screening free in several cities in NI from February 2013 with panel discussions and Q&A with the director. You can check out its FB page for notices details of screenings and local press and Councils’ promotional materials. Plans are in place to make an educational resource based on the film to assist in the use of it by groups, organisations and schools.

  3. mcfluffle says:

    Sorry what crowd of people were you looking at? There were probably only a handful of quilted jackets, barbour & tweedy caps. There was a cross section of the population of the Greater Belfast area represented, covering all socio-economic groups, level of education and a variety of religious and political beliefs. In other words the majority of our society!!

  4. will chamberlain says:

    Nice of you to cover it, but not sure we were at the same event. Not a barbour jacket or tweed cap in sight from where I was standing. Just 1500 normal people dressed the same as folk all over the UK dress for a trip to town. Can’t remember hotel receptionist being called middle class before either. Other than that, just about spot on.

  5. Evonne okafor says:

    Why don’t the silent majority (this how you labeled them (I really hate labeling people like this as it seems you have to categorized people in this way as it seem rather insulting IMHO) can not just put up what a clearly unwanted minority who seems that the ONLY way is to be violent and in the process failing what they are doing as if they doing and in the process damaging the good reputation NI has earned as people are not coming as they see the rioting via their TV screens. Maybe they thought the ONLY way to express their POV via trashing. Now is the time that they bog off as they are clearly unable to listen to who want to offered them the chance to speak what ever is up their beef to get people who want to do their daily business without these idiots messing it up.

  6. Sharon Hawthorne says:

    Good to this see this reported on Channel 4 news – violence is so ‘photogenic’ that a small number of people being violent gets a lot of news coverage around the world but it paints a very misleading picture of N Ireland. As an English person living in NI for the last 8 years, I share the frustration of many here who feel the way their country is being portrayed is not the true picture. The vast majority of people here are living peacefully but a very small numberof people are engaged in violence. Great to see the ‘silent majority’ speaking out but fear the international media will still focus on the few that choose violence.

  7. Dave Thompson says:

    Firstly, I’d like to know exactly how many of the loyalist protestors actually work. If you’re in your teens (as many are) then you probably don’t. If you’re turning up to block a road at 4:30 every day for a week, then you probably don’t. So let’s not say ‘loyalist working class’, because most of the loyalist working class, are, strangely, at work. As for the protestors today being mostly middle class, catch a grip – since when were the middle classes the only people that wanted peace? ‘All quilted jackets’, since when was that a mark of class? Your view is way too narrow, Alex.

  8. Bob says:

    Think its only fair to say that trouble has only occurred at a small number of protests , there was approx. 100 protests on Friday 98 of which were totally peacefully . I’ve attended several protests in east belfast and some of these have been attacked by local republicans from the Short Strand area instead of walking away from the attacks a minority of the protesters sometimes become engaged with the police who do seem rather reluctant to stop attacks from catholic youths.

  9. richard green says:

    Give peace another chance!! And it is great that a group of people ,of all classes, can stage a “protest” for five minutes, and then go home without any problems!!! Well done to all involved!

  10. gazza says:

    Fair to say the community is angry at the removal of the National flag , not just the flag but they signed up for the GFA and they have not got nothing from it.

    Ongoing inquiries are one sided and cost hundreds of millions , play parks named after IRA terrorists and having to accept terrorists in the government are all what we have had to swallow for peace. .

    Sinn Fein dont give equality to protestants in their nationalist controlled councils, if they were serious about peace and equality then they would support the flying of the flag on designated days in these places were no flag flys at all and protestants feel unwelcome

  11. Mike says:

    Love the “Weapons of mass commotion” reference.!Lovely play on an old theme.

  12. S.B. BELFAST says:

    Loyalists and Unionists are talking about inequality and erosion of their culture. This is complete and utter nonsense and factually incorrect so could someone within the media do a wee bit of research and put out the relevant statistics and figures.
    FACT: In 2012 there were just over 2700 parades in the North of Ireland. Just under 2600 of these were of a persuasion Loyalist/Unionist, roughly 120 were of a Nationalist/Republican background and the rest were Peace/Religious/Gay Parade etc SO that nails the guff that Unionist/Loyalist culture is being eroded.
    FACT: 95% of flags, symbols and artefacts within Belfast City Hall are of a Unionist/British Military/Royal Family persuasion. There are virtually NO outward displays of Irish, Nationalist or Republican traditions.
    FACT: Statistics released in 2012 showed that 8 out of the 10 most socially and economically deprived districts in the North of Ireland are Nationalist/Republican.
    FACT: The unemployment rate is still higher amongst the Catholic population than the Protestant pulation.
    FACT: The majority of Inequality/Fair Employment tribunals are still cases taken by Catholics/Nationalists.
    FACT: The suicide rate is higher in Catholic areas as opposed to Protestant areas.
    FACT: The vast majority of streets, avenues, parks, sports fields etc within Belfast City Council area are named after Unionist/British Military/British Establishment/Royal Family figures.

    These are just some examples that simply refute the allegations currently being made by Unionist and Loyalists. The fact is that many within the Protestant community cannot and will not come to terms with equality and parity of esteem for Catholics and are wallowing in a self pitying whingefest because they are losing their supremacist position. That is it in a nutshell; anything else is a complete red herring and total fabrication to cover sectarian bigotry and hatred. It is time the British media stopped indulging these people.

  13. Stephen says:

    The protests have been almost totally peaceful. Less than 1% of them have resulted in violence – and those that have have usually been accompanied by credible claims of police brutality against women and children and/or attacks by sectarian Nationalist youths.

    Put the flag back up on Belfast City Hall, respect the identity of the majority of Northern Ireland’s British citizens and the protests will end immediately. Until that happens, the peaceful campaign against Irish bigotry and extremism will continue.

    1. del says:

      The whole world is watching these thugs disgrace themselves and their community.Your passport if you have one will tell you your part of the UK of Great Britain and NI your not British we dont want yous.

  14. Bronagh says:

    Just to clarify not all loyalist working class wear “hoodies, trackies and Rangers scarves” and not all middle class wear “quilted jackets, Barbour, tweedy caps and novelty woolen headgear with some heavy ear-muff action”

    As a Chief Correspondent you should know by now that you shouldn’t be stereotyping. Go and get your facts straight

  15. Iain McG says:

    So, after all these years, equality is encroaching on the Provence.
    And, what a surprise, some just cant take it.
    Get used to it, boys. It”s called the 21st Century.

  16. Peter Houston says:

    It is refreshing to see the media give coverage to what the vast majority of people who live and work in Belfast are about – far too often our screens are dominated by the tiny minority who want to wreck and ruin our society. Interestingly a report was published in yesterday’s Observer newspaper of the results of a British Future poll. One of the questions asked in the poll was which values are the most important for being British. Flying the Union flag did not feature at all. The most important values were the right to free speech and respect for the law. Ulster loyalism, despite its famed adherence to Britishness, is not renown for expressing these values. Indeed, i would suggest that those attending the City Hall yesterday showed a much greater degree of Britishness than the “Flag” protesters and “loyalist” rioters.

  17. Sam Flanagan says:

    Call yourself a “Journalist”????? What a joke. I see you did not post my other comments? What are you scared of?

  18. james horne says:

    alex
    how do you know it was rangers scarves they are not the only club that has red blue and white so how do you know it was rangers scarves

  19. Macca says:

    Yes James Horne….you are right enough..it was Chelsea fans causing bother again

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