09 January 2013


(I've been working on a post for a while that I was going to put up before this, but I think I need to address this first: )

Image: BBC
There are certainly exceptions, but Northern Ireland and its politics don't generally appear on the radars of most people I know back home. When there is unrest in the city, it barely makes news in the UK, much less abroad.

So when tensions began to arise a few weeks ago, I decided it would be better to just wait for things to settle down a bit before addressing them with people back home. If we're being completely honest, I hoped that it would all blow over before anyone heard - it's a lot easier to say, "Oh yeah, there was some disagreement. Doesn't that suck?" in retrospect than to have to answer specific questions about the incidents and my safety here in Belfast.

But then I was in Paris for New Years, and stories about Belfast were on the news. Then it must have made its way to the States, because I started getting concerned emails. So I thought I'd just address it all here now. It is an incredibly complex issue that I know I can't do justice (which is why I usually refer you, my faithful reader, to people that are more knowledgeable than I about political matters), but I will do my best to summarize:

In early December, Belfast City Council voted to limit the number of days that the Union flag was flown above City Hall. This made several people upset, and groups began to form to protest this decision. Some of the protests were more peaceful than others - which have turned violent on occasion. Protesters have used social media to organize events, often with the addition of "#flegs" (hence the post title).

Image: Belfast Telegraph
Now, opinions differ as to whether the protests are purely about the flag or a symbol of greater unrest: I visited a facebook page managed by a local group for up-to-date information this afternoon. This is notable because today (9 January) is the first time that the flag has been flown at City Hall since the initial decision - in honor of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge's birthday. Most in the group were of the consensus that there would be no protesting today, because the flag is flying... and making a commotion would create an argument for those who say protesters are just "recreational rioters". Others in the forum replied that they feel the issue has moved deeper than just the flag. It is not my place to determine whether or when the flag should fly over City Hall. I can't say whether the flag is even the issue anymore. But it seems that the occasions of violence represent real anger and frustration in these communities which cannot be brushed aside.

With that being said: First and foremost, I am safe. I have not felt unsafe since the trouble has begun. Yes, I see more police land rovers than before and it's really annoying when you're waiting for a bus that isn't actually coming because the road is blocked elsewhere.  But this is a situation where even just a few blocks distance makes a difference. There are not wild bands roaming my neighborhood with torches or anything. I reiterate, we feel totally safe here. Our friends and coworkers look out for us, and let us know if we should avoid certain situations or areas at certain times. This is also where the social media aspect helps us - we know when there will be a gathering, so we don't go there!

The people acting in violence are the vast minority of the population. The majority of people I meet hate to think that this is what the rest of the world associates with Belfast. We have SO much more to offer than the images of violence that make media headlines. The upcoming 4 Corners Festival is just one of many examples - notable here because it ends with a prayer and worship service at my church!

So please, family and friends back home - don't worry about me. Or if you do, make it because I'm a klutz and not because you think I'll be water cannon-ed on my way home from work!


Update: find an article from another perspective here

No comments:

Post a Comment