Thursday, December 6, 2012

Belfast City Hall

On 4th of December 2012 the Union Jack which has flown over Belfast City Hall every day for more than a century was taken down.

Just over a week before the council vote on 3rd December, the council's strategic policy and resources committee voted 11-9 in favour of removing the flag completely. Nationalists argued that Belfast is a shared space and a neutral environment which should be welcoming for everyone. Symbols such as the British flag they argue, represent only one side of the community. They argued that if the Union Jack was to be flown it should be flown along with the Irish tricolour, otherwise no flag should be flown or an agreed flag should be flown. Unionists would not accept anything less than the Union flag continuing to fly over the City Hall for 365 days a year. As a compromise, The Alliance Party put forward a proposal to fly the flag on 17 designated days per year as recommended by the Equality Commission. And so in the council meeting Nationalists and Alliance voted to bring City Hall into line with Stormont and other government buildings in the North. Unionsits voted against. The motion passed 29 votes to 21.

The wheels were set in motion for this historic council vote in the aftermath of the local government election to Belfast City Council in 2011. When the ballots were counted the results saw Nationalist candidates elected to 24 seats on the council on 48.3% of the vote. Unionists candidates won 21 seats with 36.7% of the vote and The Alliance Party won the remaining 6 seats. It was the first time that Nationalists had won more seats than Unionists in Belfast. The Alliance Party held the balance of power.

 This graph which appears on Nicholas Whyte's excellent Ark website ( shows the voting patterns since 1973 and shows how rapid demographic change which has occured in Belfast.