Video: Message of hope as 1,000 unite in rally for peace
AROUND 1,000 people rallied for peace and an end to the union flag protests across the North.
The gathering outside Belfast City Hall was in stark contrast to the previous five weeks of violent protests following the decision by the city council to only fly the flag on designated days, rather than all year round.
Traffic flowed freely, amid a small police presence, as they took their places on the cobbles and pavements.
The rally was organised on Facebook, and many there had attended a similar event before Christmas.
Many young people and families joined the demonstration, but they pointedly stood on the pavement rather than blocking the road, a favourite tactic of loyalist protesters.
Everyone, including the children perched on their parents shoulders, was united in their hope for peace, and, through words and song, shared their desire for the flag-related violence of recent weeks to stop.
There wasn't a flag of any description in sight.
Instead, the main banner for the event, positioned at the front railings of the city hall, read 'Belfast Gathering No Silence For Peace'.
Other placards carried similar messages of hope and positivity, such as 'Everyone Wins With Peace', 'We Can Work It Out', 'I Love Belfast' and 'Give Belfast Back The Love'.
A five-minute no-silence started at 12.55pm, with huge cheers, whoops and clapping, accompanied by whistles sounding, drum beats and other percussion instruments.
As happy noise filled the area, passing motorists tooted their horns in solidarity. Belfast musician Duke Special and UUP MLA Basil McCrea were among the throng. Mr McCrea said that he was attending the peace demonstration "as a citizen".
The MLA, who is facing disciplinary proceedings from his party for agreeing with the decision to fly the union flag on designated days only, added: "I do think ordinary people are absolutely frustrated and fed up with the situation and really want a message to go out to people that we want this nonsense stopped."
Businesses in Belfast's city centre have struggled to cope since the violence began, with some customers avoiding the area over fears of encountering trouble.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned some investors may think again, and estimated £15m (€18m) had already been lost to the local economy because of the rioting.