Reporter Deborah McAleese has spent the last two days talking to the silent majority of east Belfast. As terrible images from the city are beamed around the world, these voices are needed more than ever...
A 32-year-old nurse and mother of a 10-year-old son and one-year-old daughter
“My son knows some of the kids who have been going to the protests. He would have hung about with them and they’ve asked him to go along. Some of the kids are going to the protests with their parents and others are going themselves. I don’t know if any of the kids my son knows are involved in rioting, but I imagine it wouldn’t be long before they were sucked into it.
“I haven’t been letting my son leave the house in the evenings since these protests turned bad. I don’t want him going to the protests. He doesn’t understand why I won’t let him out to see his friends and it has caused rows with him. It’s not fair that he is stuck indoors but what else can I do? I want to keep him away from any peer pressure that might lead to him getting involved in riots and I don’t want him thinking that this is the way life should be.”
A 23-year-old mother of a three-month-old girl
“I'm fed up and so are my neighbours. They are protesting and rioting right at the end of my street. Until all this happened I didn't even know there was a flag at the City Hall. I'd no problem with the first protest but it's just mad now. I'm trying to get my daughter off to sleep at night and all you hear is them. They tried to hijack my neighbour's car the other night. She's just a wee girl and they were banging on the car, but she just drove on. We know them all. They are not doing this for us. I have lived here all my life so I know them all and they are just bullies.”
Lorraine, a designer and mother-of-two
“My son is 16 and I am afraid to let him out of the house. He is of an age that he doesn’t understand what the Troubles were about and I am afraid that he could get caught up in it all.
“He always wants to go into town with his friends and I worry when he goes. Last Saturday they went into town and got stuck as there were no buses home. I had to drive in to pick them up and put a couple of his friends up in the house overnight. I no longer drive up the Newtownards Road. It is sad to see the businesses in the area suffer.
“I would drive by some of the restaurants which used to always be busy in the evenings, and now they are empty.
“It makes me angry that this has all flared up again and young children are getting caught up in it.”
Linda, a 36-year-old nursery assistant
“I’ve lived here quite a while and I recognise some of the women who have been taking part in these protests with their young children. I can’t believe they are taking their youngsters. I have two children and I would never dream of introducing them to that sort of thing. Do the women really think bringing their kids up like that is a good thing? Don’t they want something better for their children? It is all very depressing.”
Elaine, 35-year-old civil servant
“I get a list of the protest sites every day so I know which areas I have to avoid and if I need to leave work early to get home.
“I have also been avoiding the Lower Newtownards Road area in the evenings and at weekends because I don’t want a brick through my car window or my car hijacked.
“I used to feel safe living in east Belfast but there is a sense of lawlessness at the minute.
“It makes me angry that these people think they have a right to prevent me from moving freely in the area I live. I don’t understand what these people are thinking.
“It is just kids out there so how can they have any affinity for a flag?
“When I was their age I wouldn’t have been allowed out to wander the streets on a school night, in the rain, never mind throwing bricks at police.”
28-year-old Polish woman
“I moved here with my husband three years ago. At first I was happy, now I want to leave. I don't like this area, It frightens me.
“At night-time I do not leave my house now and I am afraid when my husband goes to work at night in case they take our car. We can hear the noise from all the fighting and the banging of the stones. Even when it stops I am nervous all the time waiting for it to start again.”
30-year-old primary school teacher on maternity leave with eight-month-old baby girl
“Luckily, where I live, I can hide myself away from the violence. I suppose I am concerned that they could stretch out closer to my home. I have to make sure I am at home in time so as not to get caught up in any of it.”
Female business owner
“I don't want to say anything as I will end up being burnt out. Business has been affected but I'm sitting tight and hoping it will be resolved soon.”
Male business owner
“The past week has been terrible with the riots. People don't want to come out at night. I am having to close up early to protect my premises and staff.”
“They are not protesting on my behalf and they don’t speak for me. They are ruining our community, destroying businesses and terrorising residents.
“People are afraid to speak out against them at the minute because they know what the repercussions for them could be — a brick through their window, their business burnt down or a bottle over the back of the head some night. That’s the sort of people we are talking about here. These are not good people with good intentions. They are ruining the lives of all the young ones they are dragging into it and a load of parents are too daft to see that.
“When you live here it is hard to keep your own kids from hearing what’s going on, but my kids know that if I ever caught them getting involved in anything like this they would be in big trouble.”
46-year-old male security guard
“My cousin and her family visited from Australia for Christmas and I was so embarrassed having to try and explain to them what this is all about. She lived in east Belfast as a young girl and was looking forward to introducing her husband and their children to the area. Although I had warned her, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This is the image they are taking back to Australia with them.
“I view myself as British, but I couldn’t care less about the Union flag at the City Hall.”
“I hate what these people are doing to this area. My husband and I used to enjoy living here. We have friendly neighbours, there are nice places to walk and there are lots of very nice shops, restaurants and cafes.
“When we first moved in six years ago there was a really nice sense of community. But what has happened over the past month is destroying the neighbourhood. So many of the neighbours are talking about moving out and we are now thinking about it seriously ourselves. The problem is, who is going to want to buy a house in east Belfast at the minute?”
Father of two young boys
“My sons are 11 and 12 and I have been worrying about them constantly. It is the first time they have heard about the conflict and it is something I had hoped they would never have to live through. They can’t understand why there is so much controversy over a flag.
“It is affecting family life because I won’t let them go out into any areas where there may be trouble.”
Male business owner
“That lot from the UVF and those in bed with them organising these protests are not acting on my behalf. They are ruining my livelihood.
“The problem is they know they are able to get away with it because our so-called political representatives are too afraid of losing votes to stand up to them. The UVF has been terrorising this area for a long time now, the media are only showing a small part of it. They have been demanding protection money from local businesses for years. They are nothing but thugs.”
“I've lived here all my life. It used to be a good place to live. They are just thugs. I supported them at the start over the flag but now I don't care if the thing flies or not. I'm not well and can't cope with all this.
“This is the first I’ve left my home in a week because I am frightened. But if I saw them throwing things I would tell them they’re a disgrace. I’ve been telling my grandchildren |to move out. I don't want them having to live through this.”